Updated: Aug 29, 2019
Civets are small to medium sized mammals belonging to the Viverridae family, an ancient lineage of Feliforma (the cat-like suborder of carnivores). The Viverridae family comprises of 33 species of civets, genets and oyans, classified as follows (Hunter and Barrett 2018):
Viverinnae, large terrestrial civets (6 species)
Genettinae, genets and oyans (16 species)
Paradoxurinae, palm civets and Binturong (7 species)
Hemigalinae, otter civets and allies (4 species)
The phylogeny of the Viverridae family has been widely debated in the academic literature, but thanks to technological advances in scientific methodologies, classifications are increasingly being modified with the identification of distinct species and subspecies. For example, Veron and colleagues (2019) through DNA and morphological analysis, determined there to be three separate species within P. hermaphroditus, two subspecies within P. musangus, P. philippinensis and at least two or three subspecies within P. hermaphroditus.
Civet distribution is restricted to Africa and South Asia (of which the Civet Project is concerned with the latter species- more on that in the next blog post). Civets are primarily solitary and nocturnal animals with arboreal and semi-arboreal habits (Borah & Deka 2011). Generally civets posses a cat-like appearance, hence their informal naming as "civet cats". All share nocturnal features such as elliptical pupils as well as strong smelling scent glands, though habitat adaptations are observed between species (Hunter & Barrett 2018). For example, the Binturong, Arctictis binturong, are the only civet with a prehensile tail and the Otter civet, Cynogale bennettii, has anatomical adaptions suited to aquatic hunting including webbed feet.
Civets are known as mesocarnivores, in which their diet consists between 30-70% meat. In addition to small mammals, civets will forage on fruits, berries and insects. As such, civets occupy a crucial role within the ecosystem as seed-dispersers (Nakashima et al. 2010).
Borah, J. and Deka, J. B., 2011. An observation of common palm civet Paradoxurus hermaphroditus mating. Small Carnivore Conservation, 44, pp.32-33.
Hunter, L. and Barrett, P., 2018. A field guide to the carnivores of the world. London: Bloomsbury.
Nakashima, Y., Inoue, E., Inoue-Murayama, M. and Sukor, J.R.A., 2010. Functional uniqueness of a small carnivore as seed dispersal agents: a case study of the common palm civets in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia. Oecologia, 164(3), pp.721-730.
Veron, G., Patou, M.L., Tóth, M., Goonatilake, M. and Jennings, A.P., 2015. How many species of Paradoxurus civets are there? New insights from India and Sri Lanka. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research, 53(2), pp.161-174.