Alabama Gazette - The people's voice of reason

Fisher or Fisher cat

 

Fishers, found only in North America, occur in the northern coniferous and the mixed forests of Canada and the northern United States. Their range extends from the mountainous areas in the southern Yukon and Labrador Provinces southward to central California and Wyoming, the Great Lakes and Appalachian regions, and New England. The fisher lives in thick coniferous or mixed coniferous and hardwood forests. It prefers habitats with lots of tree cover and lots of hollow trees for dens.

The fisher also known as fisher cat is a member of the weasel family (Mustelidae) and has a long body, short legs and a long, bushy tail. The head is broad and flat with a sharp, pronounced muzzle. The ears are broad, rounded, and low. Fur color varies from light brown to dark blackish brown, although the face, neck, and shoulders may have a lighter grizzled gray appearance. Often there are irregular white patches on the chest and underside. Adults range in length from 2.5 to 4 feet. Males weigh 7 to 13 pounds and females weigh about 3 to 5.5 pounds. They have large feet with 5 toes on all 4 and retractable claws which enables fishers to rotate their hind paws almost 180 degrees, allowing them to run down trees head first like a squirrel. Central pads on the hind paws have circular patches of coarse hair which are associated with plantar glands. These glands produce a distinctive odor believed to be used for communication during reproduction. It is estimated that fishers live up to 10 years.

Fishers are opportunistic predators and mainly carnivores that hunt exclusively in forested habitats where prey is abundant and vulnerable to capture. Their diverse diet includes birds, porcupines, snowshoe hare, squirrels, mice, shrews, voles, reptiles, insects, carrion, vegetation, and fruit. When it preys on porcupines, it attacks the porcupine's face repeatedly until the porcupine is weakened from trying to defend itself. Fishers don't always win battles with porcupines and they are sometimes badly injured or killed by the porcupine's quills. The fisher also eats fruits, berries, plants and carrion. Their name is misleading since fishers do not actually catch fish. The name may have come from early European settlers who noted the fisher's similarity to the European polecat which was variously known as a fitchet or fitchew. They are solitary animals except during the breeding season (late February through April).

The female fisher begins to breed at about one year of age and her reproductive cycle is almost a year-long event. Mating takes place in late March to early April and after gestating for about 50 days, the female gives birth to one to four kits. Then 7–10 days later the breeding cycle begins again. The females den in hollow trees where kits are born blind and helpless. They are partially covered with fine hair and begin to crawl after about 3 weeks. After 7 weeks they open their eyes and start to climb after 8 weeks. Kits are completely dependent on their mother's milk for the first 8–10 weeks after which they begin to switch to a solid diet. After 4 months they become intolerant of their litter mates, at 5 months the mother pushes them out on their own, and after one year, juveniles will have established their own range.

A fisher's home range is usually about ten square miles and may overlap with a number of other fishers' home ranges. It uses scent to mark its territory and moves around it frequently following well-used trails. It travels both on the ground and through the trees. The fisher makes its den in crevices, under bushes, in logs, and in trees. In the winter it sometimes will use a den in the snow. The fisher is a very good swimmer and excellent climber.

 

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