Fisher Cats

Fisher (Martes pennanti) Balances on Tree Trunk - captive animal

Fishers are getting a bad rap in the community, but here are some facts to shed some positive light on the little critters.

The fisher cat is a member of the weasel family, usually measuring just 30 to 40 inches long and normally weighing about 12 pounds. They have a tail that accounts for a third of their overall body length and are primarily carnivores, though they also like to snack on some fruit, nuts, and mushrooms.

The fisher is brown and gray with some red and tan around the head. Their coats are usually thicker in the wintertime, making them look bigger than they actually are.

Susie Spikol, community programs director and teacher-naturalist at the Harris Center for Conservation Education, recently shared some facts and research that dispel current misnomers about the fisher cat. Spikol has been educating residents in the region for almost 25 years.

FACT: For starters, the North American native is known simply as the fisher.

Spikol says that when the settlers first came over and discovered the fisher, they thought it closely resembled something they called a polecat. The Dutch called it a fitche while the French had another name, the fishet.

According to Spikol, many people think that when they see a fisher running away it looks like a cat with its long tail. The sleek mammal is closely related to otters, minks and the aforementioned weasels.

FICTION: “A fisher was screaming last night.”

This is something Spikol reports she’s heard people in the community say. But it isn’t true.

Fishers are quiet. They do not vocalize in the wild as much as they do when they are in captivity. Spikol says what people are hearing is a fox — or possibly even a porcupine! Porcupines have a cry that is closely associated with that of a crying infant. You can check it out on YouTube.

FACT: Fishers are located primarily in Canada and the northern portion of the U.S.

“Though they are not endangered, the population appears to be in decline in the Monadnock Region,” said Spikol. The fisher is an adaptable and determined creature. Just like any carnivore, they hunt for survival in a world where it’s eat or be eaten.

FICTION: If you recently lost a cat and are wondering what could’ve happened to it, don’t look to place blame on the fisher.

Spikol says that many area residents tend to say that “a fisher ate my cat.” But in fact, fishers aren’t usually the main cause of a cat’s disappearance. They will attack and hunt them, but they are far from the only thing in the area that is a threat to your housecat.

Bobcats and coyotes are also on the prowl, while automobiles are the number one killer of cats, according to Spikol. Fishers have this vicious label placed on them as a result of being in the weasel family, which also includes such predators as the wolverine. But they are simply fighting for their right to live.

Spikol said that in a recent study of the stomach contents of 1,000 fishers, only one had cat remains inside. But the scientists could not identify if the cat remains were because of a recent hunt or perhaps a result of an easy meal due to roadkill.

According to a study in 2013 by the University of Georgia, cats reportedly killed an estimated 2 to 4 billion animals that year. An estimated 500 million of those were songbirds, some of which are federally protected.

Spikol advice is to keep cats inside: “If people want their cats to be safe, then they should keep their cats in the house and take care of them accordingly, providing the environment they need within your home.”

FACT: The carnivorous little critter is a benefit to your home!

The fisher eats small prey like mice, voles, shrews, squirrels and chipmunks. These smaller rodents tend to carry ticks and can find their way into your backyard or even your home. The fisher will take care of that problem for you by helping to control the population as a natural predator.

They also are one of the only animals that can successfully hunt porcupines. Porcupines can climb trees and cause damage in places like an apple orchard. Luckily, the fisher can also climb trees using its hind feet to swivel so they can go down a tree head first, a great hunting advantage.

Fishers are a unique little critter with a natural inclination to endure in a world where it is “survival of the fittest.” Like any carnivore, they can be tagged with a negative label because it seems wrong that they are attacking our pets, but they are just fighting for their right to survive much like a shark swims in the ocean just trying to eat.

Spikol holds education programs at the Harris Center and loves to stand up for what she dubs “underdog species” like the fisher. She will speak about fishers at Distant Hill Gardens, 507 March Hill Road in Walpole, Sept. 19, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Suggested donation is $10 per adult. Visit distanthillgardens.org for more details about the event. Contact Spikol at 525-3394 or spikol@harriscenter.org.

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