Thursday, 1 January 2009

The Fouine - Beech or Stone Marten

La Fouine or Hêtrière , Beech Marten - or Stone Marten- from the German Steinmarder,
Latin -Martes foina

This animal appeared on the steps to our courtyard, looking uncertain in its movements and even perhaps ill. It curled itself up and went to sleep. Later it ‘toddled’ down to the back door, laboriously negotiating the steps and then curled itself up on the coconut mat. From nose to tail tip it was about 60 cms. long – not a small beast.
Believing it to be in far from perfect condition we gave it some bread and milk, which it ignored. It slowly went away again with a lumbering gait. Then it found its way to the other side of the property. In the evening it was eating the fallen plums. The next morning we found numerous small scratched out holes beneath the walnut tree of much the same appearance as a rabbit might make. The creature had probably searched for insect grubs and beetles. No doubt any unwary mouse or shrew also fell prey. But the animal itself was asleep near the washing line and when disturbed bounded like a kitten. The animal is essentially nocturnal and I imagine that its apparent lethargy in the day, was because we had disturbed its slumbers!
Anecdotes like this of the behaviour of the fouine are not uncommon. It can be domesticated, rather like its close relative the polecat, which after some generations of domestication has become the ferret. It is claimed that the fouine can live up to 18 years. I could not possibly approach it to smell it, but it is said that it has a not unattractive smell, unlike the polecat which stinks. Another relative, the pine marten, is very similar to the fouine, distinguished chiefly by having a yellowish bib, rather than white, and rather more pointed ears. It is far more wary of humans.
Before we had our roof re-tiled, fouines could wake us with a great thumping in the attic. When fouines take up home around or in habitations, they can cause damage. Insulation and gaines can be chewed. Bits of car engines have been damaged. The creature may be found in the heart of towns as well as the countryside. It has the English name of Beech Martin, although it does not exist in Britain. Whenever the English name Beech marten was invented it copied another ancient French name of hêtrière (of the beech tree). It so happens that the original Latin word for the beech tree, a name which continued in use in southern France, i.e. fagus became faîne in denoting a wood of small beeches. This word became fouine and so the name of the animal originating from the Occitan also means the creature of the beech trees.

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