Civets genets and linsangs

(Viverridae)

Class Mammalia Order Carnivora Family Viverridae

Thumbnail description

Small to medium carnivores resembling the Mustelidae but limited to the Old World; body and tail are long, legs are short, and face is elongated with a pointy nose and conspicuous ears; claws are short and sharp; many species with long, banded tails

Size

Number of genera, species

20 genera; 34 species

Habitat

Forests, steppes, and brushland Conservation status

Critically Endangered: 1 species; Endangered: 4 species; Vulnerable: 6 species; Data Deficient: 3 species

Distribution

Western Europe, Africa, Arabia, and Southeast Asia

Distribution

Western Europe, Africa, Arabia, and Southeast Asia

Evolution and systematics

The Viverridae is an old and primitive carnivore family for which the fossil record is scarce. First appearance of Viverridae in Europe and Asia occurs in the early Oligocene and in Africa in the early Miocene. Because of incomplete records, the place of origin of viverrids in the Old World is unknown. Extant species resemble fossil forms, suggesting that skeletal morphology and tooth structure has remained unchanged for 40-50 million years. The diversity within the family is explained by the variety of the niches occupied, from truly terrestrial, partly to mostly arboreal, to aquatic. The mongooses were once considered in the Viverridae under a different subfamily, the Herpestinae. However, most authorities now recognize mongooses under the family Her-pestidae.

The current Viverridae is divided into six subfamilies. The Euplerinae consists of two species in two genera, the falanouc (Eupleres goudotii) and the Malagasy civet (Fossa fossana). The Hemigalinae includes the otter civet (Cynogale bennettii) and three species of palm civets. The Nandiniinae has only one species, the African palm civet (Nandinia binotata), whereas the Paradoxurinae consists of five genera and seven species of palm civets as well as the binturong (Arctictis binturong). Finally, the largest subfamily is the Viverrinae, which consists of seven genera and 20 species of genets (Genetta and Osbor-nictis), civets (Civettictis, Viverra, and Viverricula), and linsangs (Poiana and Prionodon). Authorities are still debating the position of one species, the fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox), but it is herein considered with the mongooses in the Herpestidae.

Physical characteristics

Civets, genets, and linsangs are characterized by long, sinewy bodies, short legs with strong, sharp claws, long tails, and elongated heads with pointed snouts. Ears typically are fairly large and erect. Most species have short fur with, a slen-

Cynogale Bennettii
A common genet (Genetta genetta), foraging. (Photo by Harald Schutz. Reproduced by permission.)
Civets Genets And Linsangs
Blotched genets (Genetta tigrina) are nocturnal tree dwellers. (Photo by © George McCarthy/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.)

der appearance, and a long, non-prehensile tail that may exceed the length of the body. One species, the binturong, differs from most viverrids by having exceptionally long fur, stocky appearance, and a prehensile tail. Viverrids have five fingers and five toes. Perineal glands are present, and well developed in numerous species, especially Civettictis civetta, Viverra zibetha, and Viverricula indica. Pelage color is uniform in the binturong, but most species have dark spots, bands, or stripes, and many have banded tails.

Viverrids display adaptations based on the niche they occupy. Terrestrial species such as Civettictis civetta, Viverra zibetha, and Eupleres goudotii have digitigrade feet, non or semi-retractile claws, short tails, and fur with spots or stripes. Arboreal or semi-arboreal species can be separated into two groups, agile species that leap or jump (e.g., Genetta servalina) or less-agile species that grasp branches and move more slowly (Arctictis binturong, Paguma larvata, and Paradoxurus sp.). Agile arboreal species have digitigrade feet, long tails, and spotted fur, whereas less agile species have plantigrade feet, long tails, but uniform fur. Long tails occur in all arboreal species

Civettictis Civetta
This young African civet (Civettictis civetta) is on its way back to its lair in the rocks. (Photo by Cyril C. Laubscher. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

and help animal maintain their balance. Aquatic species have bare soles, plantigrade feet, uniform pelage, and long tails.

Distribution

The Viverridae are confined to the Old World, and occupy parts of western Europe, most of Africa including Madagascar, Southeast Asia, and Malaysia.

Hemigalus Derbyanus
The banded linsang (Prionodon linsang) uses its tail to help keep its feet warm. (Photo by Tom McHugh/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)
Hemigalus Derbyanus
The banded palm civet (Hemigalus derbyanus) is mostly terrestrial but has the ability to climb trees. (Photo by Art Wolfe/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Habitat

The Viverridae occupy tropical forests and densely vegetated areas. Possibly the most flexible species is the common genet (Genetta genetta), which can be found in deciduous forests, plantations, steppes, and parks.

Behavior

The Viverridae are shy animals that are primarily nocturnal. They are solitary, or live in pairs or small groups. Most species are good climbers, some are almost exlusively arboreal (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus and Poiana richardsonii, for example), and two species, the otter civet and the aquatic genet (Osbornictispiscivora), are aquatic. Many species such as Genetta genetta use secretions from their anal glands to scent mark their territories. Scent marks are deposited either passively when moving through vegetation, or actively by squatting and rubbing the anal region on the ground or on prominent objects. Scent marks likely allow assessment of social status, individual recognition, kin recognition, and sex ual receptiveness. Vocalizations are well developed in some species.

The behavior and ecology of most species of Viverridae are poorly known, and the family is probably the least known of all carnivores. Most species are nocturnal and shy, and occupy dense vegetation. Because few species are of commercial value to humans, and because most are secretive, few studies have been devoted to gaining a better understanding of this group. Knowledge of spacing patterns and population estimates are unavailable for most species, and much current knowledge arises from opportunistic observations or specimen collections for museums, or from captive animals kept as pets or in zoological gardens.

Feeding ecology and diet

All species are opportunistic feeders, although some specialization occurs toward frugivory in palm civets, to a mostly carnivorous diet in genets. The Viverridae are excellent predators and mostly use their sense of sight and hearing to find prey.

African Tree Mammals
A common genet (Genetta genetta) sitting in a tree. (Photo by © Peter Johnson/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.)
African Civet
An African civet (Civettictis civetta), foraging. (Photo by Harald Schutz. Reproduced by permission.)

Reproductive biology

Breeding occurs seasonally or throughout the year. Some groups may bear two litters per year, and litter size is one to six. Young are born blind but furred. Little else is known of their reproduction or mating system.

Conservation status

Of the fourteen species of Viverridae listed on the IUCN Red List, one species, the Malabar civet (Viverra civettina) is listed as Critically Endangered, and two species (otter civet and falanouc) as Endangered, mostly because of habitat destruction, predation, and illegal hunting. Many species such as Owston's palm civet (Chrotogale owstoni), Sulawesi palm civet (Macrogalidia musschenbroekii), and Jerdon's palm civet (Paradoxurus jerdoni) are listed as Vulnerable. Three additional species, the Johnston's genet (Genetta johnstoni), Abyssinian genet (Genetta abyssinica), and the aquatic genet (Osbornictis piscivora) are listed as Data Deficient because of lack of information on their abundance and population trends.

Significance to humans

The main importance of this carnivore family to humans is in the production of civet oil, the product from the anal glands of species in at least three genera (Civettictis, Viverra, and Viver-ricula). The musk, often referred to as "civet," has a sweet smell and is used mostly for the perfume industry and for medicinal purposes. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, civet was highly sought after for the perfume industry. Today, synthetic replacements have caused the market to decline, but captive civets are still held for civet production. Most of the production originates in Ethiopia. The civet is removed from captive animals by squeezing the protruding anal pockets. Males produce a stronger and better quality civet, and production from individual animals averages 0.14-0.67 oz (4-19 g) per week.

Some species of Viverridae are considered pests in some areas for depredation of poultry. Many species are kept as pets to control rodents and insects around households. Skins of some animals may be used locally by indigenous people, but no species are harvested commercially for their pelts.

Osbornictis PiscivoraEupleres Goudotii

1. Falanouc (Eupleres goudotii); 2. African linsang (Poiana richardsonii); 3. Binturong (Arctictis binturong); 4. Otter civet (Cynogale bennettii); 5. African civet (Civettictis civetta); 6. Common genet (Genetta genetta); 7. African palm civet (Nandinia binotata); 8. Aquatic genet (Osbornictis piscivora). (Illustration by Dan Erickson)

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