A lot of people have never heard of a fisher cat. What is a fisher cat? The fisher cat is a North American marten, a medium sized mustelid. The fisher is agile in trees and has a slender body that allows it to pursue prey into hollow trees or burrows in the ground. Despite its name, this animal seldom eats fish; the name may originate from the French word fichet, which referred to the pelt of a European polecat. In some regions the fisher is known as a pekan which is derived from its name in the Abenaki language.
Adults weigh between 2 and 7 kg (4-15 lbs) and are between 65 and 125 cm (29-47 inches) in length. Males are about twice the size of females, with the smallest females having been recorded being as small as 1.4 kg (3.1 lbs), hardly larger than most other martens, and males at as much as 9 kg (20 lbs). Their coats are darkish brown, with a black tail and legs; some individuals have a cream-colored patch on the chest. Each of the Fisher’s feet have five toes with semi-retractable claws. Because they can rotate their hind paws 180 degrees, they can grasp limbs and climb down trees head first. A circular patch of hair on the central pad of their hind paws marks plantar glands that give off a distinctive odor, which is believed to be used for communication during reproduction.
Fishers are solitary hunters. Their primary prey include hares, rabbits, squirrels, mice, shrews, and porcupines. Their diet may also contain small birds, fruit and berries, as well as deer in the form of carrion. While fishers and mountain lions are the only regular predators of porcupines, the fisher is the only predator to have a specialized killing technique. As observed by Robert G. Snyder in the Adirondack mountains of New York, a fisher first approaches from the direction the porcupine is facing. The porcupine tries to protect itself by turning to present its tail, covered with quills, to the attacker. The fisher then jumps directly over its prey, forcing the porcupine to keep turning to protect its vulnerable head. A dozen or more such maneuvers suffice to exhaust and confuse the porcupine into a stupor in which it can no longer protect itself. Then, by repeatedly biting and scratching at the porcupine’s face, the fisher causes it to bleed to death. The fisher eats the porcupine by flipping the dead animal over and starting with its unprotected belly.
Fishers are also known to eat ground nesting birds such as grouse and turkeys. Often, young of the year and eggs make easy targets. Also, in some areas fishers can become pests to farmers because they will get into a pen and kill large numbers of chickens. Fishers have also been known to eat small pets left outside, such as stray cats and dogs. While this is rare, when densities are high and food resources are low, animals may become desperate.
In 2005 a Boston Globe article told of fishers attacking cats. A July 4, 2007 article in the New York Times raises the possibility that fishers have turned up in Hopewell Township, New Jersey, causing concern among cat owners. Zoologists are skeptical, suggesting other animals could be responsible, observing that it would be difficult for fishers to migrate into the area. A study done in 1979 examined the stomach contents of all fisher trapped in the state of New Hampshire. Cat hairs were found in only one of over 1,000 stomachs. Attacks on domestic cats may be documented, but zoologists suggest a bobcat, coyote, or dog is more likely to kill domestic cats and chickens.