On Monday, a wilderness explorer took to Reddit because they had a bit of a stumper on their hands.
They'd seen this little furry tree-dwelling animal in late September at Bear Head Lake State Park, up in the northeastern corner of the state. It’s very cute – fluffy, almost foxy-looking, with a thick, luxurious-looking tail, beady eyes, a pointed snout, and massive triangular ears.
But… but what is it, tho?
What type of animal is this? Was seen at Bear Head Lake State Park on September 26, 2020. from r/minnesota
Suggestions in the comments ranged widely in terms of both species and helpfulness, from “fisher” to “the elusive tree frog” to “Chupacabra.”
A quick check with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (which is, shockingly, still taking our calls) confirmed that several of the commenters had it right. This here is, in fact, a pine marten – a member of the weasel family, and, by the department website’s own description, “one of the ‘cutest’ predators in Minnesota.’”
This little cutie will eat anything from nuts and berries to chipmunks, squirrels, and snowshoe hare, when it can find one. When the snow accumulates, the marten uses tunnels to hunt its prey. Or, when it doesn’t feel like a chase, it hangs out by bird feeders until one of those suckers lets its guard down.
That this photographer managed to lay eyes on a pine marten at all is a good sign. Most of these fierce little dudes got wiped out by the 1920s after losing their habitat to logging. By the ’50s, they were thought to have been extinct in our state. The population was coaxed back to full recovery by 1990, and by 2001, there were some 10,000 running around the northeast third of the state.
Usually when we call the DNR, it’s because the internet found a weird skeleton under a bridge or a deer encrusted in fibromas. It's nice, for once, to hear about a critter that’s doing pretty well, all things considered. Just be careful if you happen to be chopping down any lumber in the area, as they often make their dens in hollow trees.