As I followed a narrow trail not far from the red squirrel penthouse a flash of white caught my eye. A small skull, about 7 cm long (2.7 in), lay in the deep moss, a few vertebrae loose behind it. The two halves of the lower jaw, just centimetres away, were almost buried in the soft green.
The remains had lain there for some time, all flesh gone, bleached by air and wind and dappled sun.
Who died? I found no other remains but the skull was enough.
Its sharp teeth — including “Dracula” incisors — said carnivore. But who? The shape and size narrowed it down to a member of the weasel family. Even that is a big group — weasels, mink, otters, fishers, wolverines, skunks, badgers, martens and black-footed ferrets.
I know the predators who live in our woods so that eliminated some of the weasel clan. My book of skull drawings and a quick check online gave me the answer: a marten (aka pine marten aka American pine marten).
About the size of a house cat, martens are highly adapted to life in the forest. They’re fast, sleek and skilled at climbing. We once watched a life-and-death chase between a marten and a red squirrel in our yard. They were a blur of fur going up, down and around the spruce trees, leaping from branch to branch and tree to tree.
After several minutes the chase moved from our yard further into the woods. I’m not sure how it ended but it was one of those I-don’t-believe-what-I’m-seeing moments.
Google “images pine marten” to see what they look like.
Marten Martes americana
Red squirrel Tamiasciuris hudsonicus