Everyone knows that there are pine martens in Montana, but new research from the University of Montana indicates that there are more types of the notoriously difficult-to-spot creatures than previously thought. University of Montana Research Professor Natalie Dawson has been examining the pine marten skulls housed in UM’s Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum and believes there are actually up to three species or sub-species of pine marten in the state.

"Now with modern technology, using genetics and DNA we've been able to look back at those samples and see that, actually, there are two independent species of pine martens and then there's this zone called a hybrid zone along the Rocky Mountains up from Northern New Mexico up through Central British Columbia," said Dawson.

By using digital cameras instead of just calipers, Dawson says she has been able to find morphological differences between the pine marten types.

"We can take photos and basically recreate a three-dimensional image of the skull and then compare those characteristics across individuals in different populations: like the overall size of the skull, the shape of the nose, distance between eye-sockets, variations in jaw shape... those are some of the differences we've been able to highlight so far," Dawson said.

Dawson says there is an ongoing scientific debate over whether these are different species or just sub-species of pine martens. The answer to that question, will have to be decided in the future.


More From Newstalk KGVO 1290 AM & 98.3 FM