Fishers or as they are locally called – fisher-cats – are a breed of animals which are not related to the common cat. Their Binomial name is Martes Pennanti and this species is at low risk in terms of its conservation status. These animals are known to be agile in trees, using its long slender body to pursue prey down in tree hollows or buried in burrows in the ground. They are in fact related to the weasel, mink, marten and otter families, and despite its name, is rarely seen to eat fish.
Fisher Cats in New Hampshire have thick, darkish brown glossy coats and the shade of fur appears to be darker on females than on the males. Adult fishers weight approximately between 4 and 15 lbs, and are anywhere between 29 to 47 inches in length. Males outweigh the females by 1:2 ratio. These animals have long, sharp, retractable claws, and are able to rotate their hind paws 180 degrees, therefore enabling them to climb trees and have a vice like grip.
Fisher cats are carnivorous by nature and are solitary hunters. Their prey include snowshoe hare, porcupine, mice, moles and shrews along with certain types of squirrels. They are also known to eat certain birds – which are ground nested like the turkey and grouse, fruit and berries that they may find, as well as a certain type of deer – carrion.
These animals are also known for their unique killing style. The fisher approaches a porcupine from the front i.e. in the same direction the porcupine is facing. This would cause the porcupine to curl up in to a protective ball to protect itself. The fisher will then resort to making numerous jumps over the porcupine so as to target the only part left uncovered by the porcupine – it’s face. However, the porcupine for its part, starts turning or rotating itself to avoid it’s face being harmed by the fisher. In doing so, it gets confused with the numerous jumps and then gives up in fatigue in trying to protect itself and starts to loosen the tight body curl. Seeing this, the fisher then resorts to repeatedly striking the porcupine’s face, thereby making it bleed profusely; and killing it. Once this is done, the fisher then turns the porcupine over on it back and then starts eating or biting it on the stomach – where the flesh is the softest and unprotected.
The mating season of these animals are from late February / March to April and it is a known fact that the specie have a circular patch of fur on the central pad of their hind paws which are marked plantar glands and which are known to give off a distinctive odor which is used as communication during this mating season. Female fishers breed from one year of age and the fisher embryos undergo a one-year gestation period. Therefore, litters are produced on an annual basis and are born in “dens” made high up – around 20 to 30 feet off the ground – in the hollows of trees. The average size of the litter is 3 kits and the mother fishers nurse these kits for the first 4 months of their lives.
Fishers are arboreal by nature and are known to travel along ridges, crossing river stream valleys and generally found in places, which have continuous tree cover. Fishers by nature avoid open spaces and are known to dwell in mature softwood, mixed hardwood – softwood and forested wastelands. For their dens, fishers have been known to use hollow trees, rocky outcrops, root masses, old porcupine dens, etc.
In order to find their prey, the fishers use their strong sharp claws to claw away at wood pieces, etc covering or protecting their prey. During the cold winters, the fishers use their temporary dens to stay in such as the hollows of trees, porcupine dens etc, as mentioned earlier and are even known to hide under the snow for a short time.
During the past few years however, the numbers of this specie has declined because of trapping and large-scale habitat loss. These animals are; however, shy, secretive and very difficult to breed in zoos. New Hampshire is one of the many places in US along with some parts of Minnesota, Sierra Nevada and a few others where this specie has been found and known to dwell. Fishers are mostly used to control porcupine populations and have therefore been introduced in many other places as well.