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Cat Air

Unexpected Furry Animals

Last night I went to a free talk on pine martens at my local museum, the Horniman. I was hoping to glean material for my putative children's book, P.I.N.E. Marten, about a Private Investigator named Neil Evelyn Marten who is also a pine marten (that's all I have so far, but I think you'll agree it's a winner).

The talk was given by a representative of the Vincent Wildlife Trust, who track and survey pine martens amongst their other activities, and my title comes from a poster urging the public to report any 'UFAs' they encounter. (Methods of tracking pine marten activity include scat-sniffing dogs and treat-stuffed drainpipes with a sticky pad to catch hair.)

I learned lots about pine martens, not all of it suitable for children. They're Britain's second rarest mammal, after the Scottish wildcat, and our third largest native mustelid, after badgers and otters. Females delay implantation, so they mate in August/September and don't become pregnant until February, giving birth in April. They have a distinctive cream-coloured bib and each marten's bib pattern is unique, so individuals can be recognised by their markings. I also learned the word haplotype, and considered the following mystery: DNA tests of pre-1950 stuffed specimens/skins identified them all as haplotype i while most of the pine martens tested in Britain in the last few years are haplotype A (the rest are French or Czech haplotypes and probably escaped from zoos).

Pine martens have a close relative, not available in this country, called the beech or stone marten. My book immediately acquired a pair of Wint & Kidd-style characters called Mr Beech and Mr Stone.

The main take-home point, though, is that pine martens are adorable. They have little triangular faces and huge triangular ears; fluffy tails and chocolatey feet. They love peanut butter and their poo smells like parma violets (allegedly).

I got to ask the final question of the evening: why do pine martens have such massive ears, when mustelids usually have quite small ones? The speaker didn't know the answer, but the question made everyone laugh.


... I had no idea that's what a pine marten was! I thought it was a bird!
That's a house martin!
Pine martins are really super amazing wee things, i've been lucky enough to see a few around whilst driving but they are super rare.
Oh, lucky! Of course, you live in their chief stronghold. I'd love to see one (not squished on the road).
That marten in particular looks like it's planning the assault on Toad Hall as we speak...

I, for one, would love to read about the adventures of P.I.N.E Marten. Get on the case!
Thank you! I will!
Aww, that one is a cutie alright! And I love the idea for that book. :)
Thanks! :)

The best photo from the talk was one of a young marten sticking its face into a camera trap.
Oh, now you got me hooked on looking at pictures of baby pine martens (and adults, too) on Google Images. :) So much cuteness!
Oops! Sorry! :D
No need to be. :) I'll be able to get myself un-hooked any minute now... yes, any minute... just a few more pages. :P
Ahhh. Even Sushi Nori's poo doesn't smell of parma violets.
The speaker did say that she didn't quite get this herself, although the scat does smell sweet or pleasant.
I would love to see a pine marten. They were supposed to come into the garden we had in the cottage in the Highlands last year. They didn't, of course...
At the start of the talk we were asked if any of us had seen a pine marten in the wild and someone confessed to staying in a B&B whose landlady attracted them to the garden with chocolate biscuits and jam sandwiches!
OMG that's frickin' adorable.

Like a ferret, only better.

I would absolutely buy your children's book.
I'd better get on and write it, then!

I'd like to own a ferret or two, one day.
Ferrets can be super stinky.
And if I had the time/space for ferrets I'd also have them for cats, and I'd prefer a cat really. (I said that to someone once and they pointed me at YouTube videos of cats and ferrets playing together.)
Cats don't require much space. We had a cat in a studio apartment with two adults. And then for a bit we had 2 cats in that apartment.
It's more that I go away quite often - plus I rent, and London landlords don't tend to be sympathetic about cats/dogs since there will be another, petless sucker along every minute. But hmm.
Cats are low maintenance! Dry food and water kept out in big bowls or feeders are all you need. If you want to be fancy, you can get a self-cleaning litterbox, but one cat can easily go a full week without a change or cleaning.
I'm thinking your Mr. marten could perhaps also have contact with a PI in the 'states, a Mr. Fisher.

[The "Fisher" being an American version of the Pine Marten. Being American, of course it's bigger: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisher_%28animal%29
Oh, yes! He could come over for LOLs and violence!
The US "Mr. Fisher" would seem an ideal role for a kind-of hitman/enforcer-guy. But - to add intrigue - he has a hidden, soft, romantic side?

I'm thinking Raymond Chandler-type dialog here...

Marten: "You've worked with Mr. Fisher?"
Female weasel-cop: "Sure - he has his rough edges but... deep down... "
Marten: "Yeah, you sure look like you can handle yourself - and the likes of Fisher".
Female weasel-cop: "Trust me. It comes with the game: You learn to identify their weaknesses - and where to bite"

[Marten pours two glasses of bourbon and pushes the larger one towards the female weasel-cop] ...

If this wasn't intended for eight-year-olds it would be perfect! :)