The elusive fisher
[Reprinted from original]
This week I decided to write about an elusive critter that roams our mountains but is seldom seen, the fisher. I’ve never laid eyes on one myself but a few years ago I captured a blurry picture on my trail camera that sure did resemble a fisher. I did a little more research and found that they are neat and unique animals.
Fishers are in the weasel family and are closely related to the American marten, but are a little larger in size. Their main range is found in most of Canada and in the New England states of North America. Recent studies have shown fishers have moved as far south as the northern parts of Massachusetts and New York.
The fishers found here are an isolated population that covers the higher elevation areas of West Virginia, Virginia, western Maryland and Pennsylvania. This is the southernmost population other than another isolated pocket in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. They are known as small carnivorous mammals but are actually omnivores and feed on a wide variety of small animals and occasionally fruits and mushrooms.
Fishers are long and slender with a long tail and are dark brown to black in color. Males are larger than the females and weigh 8 to 13 pounds. Females weigh 4 to 6 pounds and have a rare reproductive feature. The female fisher begins to breed at one year of age and the cycle lasts a year long.
Mating takes place in early spring but the blastocyst is delayed for 10 months until the following year when the pregnancy begins. According to Wikipedia, “The blastocyst is a structure formed in the early development of mammals. It possesses an inner cell mass (ICM) which subsequently forms the embryo.”
So the females mate and then don’t give birth until a year later. Fishers roam and have a large home range of 3 to 5 square miles in the summer and have been known to travel up to eight square miles in the winter. They are agile tree climbers but spend the majority of the time on the forest floor. Fishers prefer habitat with continuous overhead cover of 80 percent and will avoid open areas with less than 50 percent cover.
Another unique trait about the fisher is it’s one of the only predators to hunt and prey on porcupines. It’s adapted and found a way to kill the porcupine by flipping it on its back and biting it repeatedly in the face until its dead. The fisher will then start by eating the porcupine belly first. It may seem cruel but that’s just nature and the way things work in the wild.
Fishers don’t really have any predators after them other than humans. They’ve been sought after by trappers since the 18th century. Since the populations are higher to the north that’s where the majority of trapping takes place nowadays. West Virginia has a fisher trapping season that runs from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31.
West Virginia is full of a wide variety of wildlife and the fisher is probably one of the least common species as they’re rarely seen or talked about. I’ve never seen one in the wild in all of my years roaming these hills and hollows. Count yourself lucky if you’ve ever witnessed one sneaking through the woods.