In Germany, only the stone or pine marten are often referred to as martens. However, the marten family is very large and even includes the aquatic otters.

Characteristic features

Martens are among the canine predators found worldwide. In Europe and especially in Germany there is a large variety of marten species. Although this group of animals has very diverse habitats and can be found on both water and land, there are some distinctive traits that all species share.

Typical characteristics:

  • long body
  • short legs in relation to the body
  • non-retractable claws on the paws
  • rather small ears
  • short snout

The scissor bite that many predators have is typical of martens. However, the number of teeth can vary from species to species and is often adapted to the preferred food. Aquatic martens tend to have more prominent molars, for example to help them crack the shells of mussels, while species like the little weasel have more prominent fangs to make it easier to take down live prey.

Dachse (Melinae)

The badger subfamily is small, comprising only seven species. There is only one representative of this species in Europe.

European badger (Meles meles):

  • up to 14 kg total weight
  • typical grey-black-white coloring
  • Habitat: Mixed deciduous forests, swampy areas
  • Food: Fruit, earthworms, beetles, voles, shrews, moles, wild rabbits

Compared to most other marten species, badgers are not solitary creatures. They are organized into family clans and with a bit of luck you can even see a whole clan around dusk, for example when they are looking for food.

Note: Up to 50% of its diet consists of earthworms. In addition, unlike its relatives, the badger eats a lot of fruit.


The Guloninae subfamily contains those species that are typically associated with the term “marten”. Within the genus of real martens are the native stone and pine martens, which are feared by both poultry and car owners. Pine martens occasionally get lost in the chicken coops, and stone martens cause damage there much more frequently. The beech marten has a particular fondness for cars, where it chews on cables and hoses, it is also a feared chicken killer and egg thief.

Baummarder (Tuesday Tuesday):

  • dark brown fur
  • maroon throat patch
  • triangular yellowish-rimmed ears
  • lives mostly in the forest
  • Food: Birds including their clutches, small mammals such as voles or squirrels, occasionally reptiles such as frogs or lizards, rarely snails or insects

The pine marten is less likely to stray into inhabited regions. However, it can happen that it also penetrates into settlements near forests.

Steinmarder (Martes foina):

  • light brown to grey-brown fur
  • white throat patch
  • Cultural consequences
  • Food: Omnivores, however, prefer meat from rodents, birds and their clutches, frogs, insects

The stone marten also differs from the pine marten by its smaller and more rounded ear shape. In addition, the stone marten has a lighter nose.


The Mustelinae subfamily is one of the most species-rich families of marten species. Many representatives are native to Germany. Until recently, the real martens such as pine and stone martens were also assigned to this subfamily. However, recent genetic studies did not reveal such a close relationship, which is why they were assigned to their own subfamily of Guloninae.

The Mustelinae subfamily is in turn divided into further subfamilies, of which native species can only be found in the Mustela family.

European Iltis (Mustela putorius)

  • unpleasant-smelling secretion for territory marking
  • Solitary to mating
  • Diet: Carnivore, rarely fruits

The polecat is a skilled hunter who can certainly overwhelm larger prey. Even poisonous snakes are not safe from him. It was previously claimed that he was immune to snake venom, but this is not the case.

Note: Polecats were even bred to hunt rabbits in the past. For this purpose, muzzles were tied on them and they were let into the burrows, causing the rabbits to flee in fright.

European Mink (Mustela lutreola):

  • brown to black coat color
  • very dense and water-repellent fur
  • Habitats along river banks
  • Food: small rodents and water voles, frogs, fish, crabs, birds

The European mink is considered to be practically extinct in Germany. The reason for this is not only the intense hunting for its fur, but also the fact that its habitats are progressively disappearing. He needs riparian areas that are around 30 hectares in size, which hardly exist today. Another reason why the native European mink gradually disappeared was the competitive pressure from the American mink.

American mink were brought to Europe to breed for fur. Again and again, animals escaped from the farms, settled in nature and drove out the native mink. Larger populations still exist today in western Siberia and the Caucasus.

Hermelin (Mustela erminea):

  • brown fur in summer
  • white fur in winter
  • originally from Australia, but is now considered native
  • large litters with up to 18 young animals
  • Diet: Mice, rats, shrews, moles, smaller birds, occasionally reptiles such as frogs, insects

The ermine is a popular follower of cultures, because due to its size it cannot harm farm animals such as chickens, but it is a skilled mouse hunter. The ermine sneaks up very silently and quickly kills with a well-aimed bite to the neck. Ermines used to be hunted for their white winter fur. In nature, however, the stoat does not have a long life expectancy either, as it is confronted with many predators such as various birds of prey or predators such as foxes.

Mauswiesel (Mustela nivalis):

  • Mating as long as sufficient food is available
  • several litters per year possible
  • Habitat: meadows, forests
  • Food: prefers voles , occasionally plant food

The mouse weasel has a territory that is up to 50 hectares in size. However, it tends to stay longer in a location where there are good food sources.

Otter (Lutrinae)

There are not only marten species that live near water, otters spend a large part of their lives in and even under water. Otters are excellent swimmers and once they discover a pond with farmed fish, the damage can often be very extensive. However, the otter is suffering from the increasing pollution of water bodies worldwide.

Fischotter (Lutra lutra):

  • muscular cock
  • Webbed toes
  • Habitat: Shallow rivers with densely overgrown banks
  • Fresh water preferred
  • both diurnal and nocturnal

Immigrated/introduced marten species

In addition to the native marten species, there are also an increasing number of species that have been introduced. They have often escaped from controlled breeding and often represent a high competitive pressure against the native wildlife. Often there are also no hunters who keep the marten species in check, which means that they can spread uncontrollably.

American Mink (Neovison vison):

  • dark brown fur
  • white spot only on the chin
  • are preferred as mating partners by female European mink
  • Waterfront habitat, no distinction between freshwater and saltwater

Multiplication (Gulo gulo):

  • light to dark brown fur
  • almost black snout
  • up to 32 kg
  • Habitat: forests, meadows
  • Diet: in summer prefers carrion, bird eggs, berries, occasionally larger mammals, in winter prefers mice, squirrels, ptarmigan

It is assumed that the wolverine used to be native to Central Europe. Bone finds and sagas and legends from earlier times prove this. Presumably he withdrew towards Scandinavia due to the pressure of hunting and because of better prey in winter. In recent years, however, it has occasionally been sighted again in Central Europe.

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