Viverridaecivets, genets, linsangs, and relatives

This family is native to southern Europe, Africa and Asia, including Indonesia and the Philippines. Viverrids apparently radiated on Madagascar, where there are a number of endemic genera. The family includes 34 species currently placed in 20 genera.

Viverrids are medium-sized carnivores with long bodies and relatively short legs. Their bodies range from around 300 mm in length (excluding the tail, which is usually moderately long) to 1000 mm in length. Weights range from slightly less than 1 kg to 14 kg. Most species have relatively small heads with short, pointed or semipointed, erect ears and a relatively long, pointed muzzle. Their eyes are of medium size. Most species have stripes, spots, or bands on their bodies, and their tails are often ringed with contrasting colors. Their claws can be retracted. Most have perianal (not anal) glands that produce a strong-smelling substance; in some species the odor is sufficiently potent to ward off predators. The secretion of these glands, called civet, is used as a perfume base and medicine. Male viverrids have a baculum.

The skull of most viverrids is long and flattened. The second lower incisor appears to be slightly out of (raised above) the line defined by the incisor row. The carnassials are well developed. Their last upper molar is not constricted in the middle, as it is in most members of the family Mustelidae. The dental formula is 3/3, 1/1, 3-4/3-4, 1-2/1-2 = 32-40. In the auditory bullae, the demarcation between ectotympanic and entotympanic parts of the bullae is clear, and in this family it is oblique to the long axis of the skull (it is perpendicular to that axis in members of the family Herpestidae). The ectotympanic part of the bullae is much smaller than the entotympanic part. Unlike the condition in herpestids, a median lacerate foramen is absent.

Most viverrids are nocturnal hunters, feeding on small vertebrates (including carrion), insects, and other invertebrates including worms, crustaceans, and molluscs. Some species are probably strictly carnivorous and have the reputation of fierce and effective predators; others also include fruit and roots in their diets. Sightings of most species usually involve one or at most two individuals; viverrids generally do not associate in larger groups. Most are strongly arboreal, but a few species seldom climb. One, the binturong, has a prehensile tail. Their senses of sight, smell, and hearing are all well developed.

While this is a large group with many species, the habits of a surprising number are poorly known.

Technical characters 1

Technical characters 2

Literature and references cited

Feldhamer, G. A., L. C. Drickamer, S. H. Vessey, and J. F. Merritt. 1999. Mammalogy. Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. WCB McGraw-Hill, Boston. xii+563pp.

Paradiso, J. L. 1975. Walker's Mammals of the World, Third Edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Savage, R. J. G. and M. R. Long. 1986. Mammal Evolution, an Illustrated Guide. Facts of File Publications, New York. 259 pp.

Stains, H. J. 1984. Carnivores. Pp. 491-521 in Anderson, S. and J. K. Jones, Jr. (eds). Orders and Families of Recent Mammals of the World. John Wiley and Sons, N.Y. xii+686 pp.

Vaughan, T. A. 1986. Mammalogy. Third Edition. Saunders College Publishing, Fort Worth. vii+576 pp.

Vaughan, T. A., J. M. Ryan, N. J. Czaplewski. 2000. Mammalogy. Fourth Edition. Saunders College Publishing, Philadelphia. vii+565pp.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder. 1993. Mammal Species of the World, A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. 2nd edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington. xviii+1206 pp.


Phil Myers (author), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate