Aigas Field Centre
Aigas Field Centre

Three mammals, three facts

25 January, 2018. Posted by Aigas Field Centre

The pine marten, otter and red squirrel are three of the UK’s most iconic mammal species, and at Aigas we are lucky enough to see them all regularly. Here are three things to know about our amazing fauna friends.

Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

Their fur colour can range from a reddish brown to a deep brown. They undergo moults in spring and autumn, the latter producing a darker fur. This darker variation can be seen in the video below –  but be vigilant as the squirrel is quick to move!

Some of you may have seen deer antlers hung up in various places and wondered why. Red squirrels gnaw on them to get calcium as their diet does not provide them with sufficient amounts.

Squirrel pelt was used as a form of currency in Finland before coins were introduced. The pelt also featured in a disney classic – Cinderella’s slippers were made of squirrel pelt in the original story.

Pine marten (Martes martes)

A pine marten’s front pelage (the bib) shows great variation. This means that each individual can be identified. Individually identifying the pine martens (and badgers) is something that a couple of us have been working on over winter so watch out on your next visit! In the video we can see a single stripe on the bib of the pine marten on the right of the two. This individual we have named Pickle after the pickle-shaped stripe.

At the age of at least 2 years, pine martens mate in July and August, however, their young are not born until the following spring. This is because they have a mechanism called ‘delayed implantation’ where the fertilised egg is not implanted in the uterus until a later time (January in this case). This mechanism enables pine martens to give birth to young in a more favoruable time of year giving the kits a better chance of survival.

The scat of a pine marten is often found in a prominent place like on top of a boulder. This is because they are very territorial and thus use the scat to mark their territory boundaries.

Otter (Lutra lutra)

Otters love to play. You may see them on their back playing with pebbles or if there has been snow they like to slide down snowy hills.

They can have huge ranges. A male can have a territory size of up to 30 kilometres. The otters we see here come up to the loch from the river Beauly.

The use of organo-chlorine pesticide saw great declines in their numbers. However, since the ban on the use, there has been welcomed increased in otter numbers throughout the country. Their UK population is now estimated to be over 10,000.

A very big thank you to Wendy for her fabulous otter and pine marten footage.

Words by Phil Wilson, video by Wendy Meredith and Ben Jones.