Genetta piscivoraaquatic genet

Geographic Range

Aquatic genets inhabit equatorial forests in central Africa. Their range extends from the north-eastern bank of the Congo River to a rift extending across eastern and northeastern Congo. Reports of Genetta piscivora in Uganda and Burundi are unconfirmed. (Allen, 1919; Van Rompaey, 1988)


Genetta piscivora is found in dense equatorial forests, typically along streams, at elevations between 460 meters and 1500 meters. Several specimens were collected in forests dominated by homogeneous stands of Gilbertiodendron and specimens have been captured mainly near water or along streams. (Allen, 1919; Hart and Timm, 1978; Nowak, 1999; Van Rompaey, 1988)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • rivers and streams
  • Range elevation
    460 to 1500 m
    1509.19 to 4921.26 ft

Physical Description

Aquatic genets are characterized by their rusty to dull-red body fur, black tail, and the elongated white spots between and above their eyes. The front and sides of the muzzle are whitish in color, as are the areas above and below the eye. The fur on the body lacks the black spots or bands characteristic of most members of the family Viverridae, and the tail is not ringed. The palms and soles of G. piscivora have no fur, which may be an adaptation to capturing and handling aquatic prey. (Allen, 1919; Nowak, 1999; Van Rompaey, 1988)

Aquatic genets have relatively small and weak teeth compared to other genets of similar size, with poorly developed molars. The premolars are larger and more developed than the molars. Some have suggested that their teeth are modified to deal with their slippery, aquatic prey. The long and lightly built skull is characterized by relatively small olfactory bulbs, indicating a poorly developed sense of smell. Such an underdeveloped sense of smell might be expected in a species specializing on acquatic prey. (Allen, 1919; Van Rompaey, 1988)

Body measurements were obtained for two adult males, with total lengths of 910 and 785 mm. One adult male had a head and body length of 445 mm and a tail length of 340 mm. An adult male weighed 1430 g, whereas a single female weighed 1500 g. Because only about 30 specimens exist, and some of those are not identified by sex, it is difficult to speculate on sexual dimorphism in this species. (Nowak, 1999; Van Rompaey, 1988)

  • Range mass
    1430 to 1500 g
    50.40 to 52.86 oz
  • Range length
    785 to 910 mm
    30.91 to 35.83 in


Little is known about the mating system of aquatic genets. They seem to be solitary, so males and females probably only come together during mating. As this is the only species in the genus, it is not possible to speculate on the mating system of this species based on those of other closely related animals. (Hart and Timm, 1978; Van Rompaey, 1988)

Very little is currently known about the reproductive cycle of G. piscivora. They are one of the rarest and least known viverrids worldwide. One female collected in late December contained one embryo, fifteen cm long. Many equatorial African viverrid species have breeding seasons that correspond with wet seasons. (Hart and Timm, 1978; Van Rompaey, 1988)

  • Breeding interval
    The breeding interval is unknown.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season of G. piscivora is unknown.

Nothing is currently known about the the methods of parental care used by G. piscivora. However, most viverrid females are solely responsible for parental care of their offspring. Because this species is apparently solitary, there is no reason to expect any male involvement in the rearing of the young. (Hart and Timm, 1978; Van Rompaey, 1988)

Most viverrids are altricial at birth, and are cared for by the female in a nest or a den. Mothers provide milk for the young and often bring them prey foods as they get older. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


There is currently no available information about the lifespan of G. piscivora.


Observations of live aquatic genets have not been reported in the scientific literature so behavior is essentially unknown. Individuals are believed to primarily live a solitary lifestyle, although a pregnant female and a male were collected from the same area two and one half weeks apart. (Hart and Timm, 1978; Nowak, 1999; Van Rompaey, 1988)

Home Range

The home range size for these animals remains unknown.

Communication and Perception

Communication between aquatic genets has not been observed. However, as with most mammals, it is likely that they communicate with others using a combination of visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory cues. (Nowak, 1999; Van Rompaey, 1988)

Their small olfactory bulbs indicate a relatively undeveloped sense of smell, characterstic of fish-eating animals. They may use touch extensively in capturing prey. The palms and soles of their paws are bare, not furred as in other viverrids, and it has been suggested that they hunt by feeling for fish in muddy holes in streams and rivers. (Nowak, 1999; Van Rompaey, 1988)

Food Habits

Fish are believed to be a major portion of the diet of G. piscivora, as indicated by the stomach contents of one captured specimen. The stomach contained numerous bones of fish and one complete, 10 cm catfish. Several specimens were collected near streams or small rivers. The naked soles of aquatic genets could be an adaptation to facilitate the location and capture of slippery aquatic prey. Indigenous people report observing G. piscivora feed on fish, frogs, some crustaceans, and cultivated cassava tubers left to soak in the water. (Hart and Timm, 1978; Nowak, 1999; Van Rompaey, 1988)

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • fish
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • Plant Foods
  • roots and tubers


Nothing is currently known about the non-human predators of G. piscivora or the anti-predator adaptations of this species. Indigenous humans are known to prey upon these animals. (Nowak, 1999; Van Rompaey, 1988)

Ecosystem Roles

Little is known about the impact that aquatic genets have on their environment other than limited information on their role as predators. (Van Rompaey, 1988)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

G. piscivora accounted for 1.8 to 2 percent of the small mammal yield in a total of 113 captures by the Bambuti people of Zaire. These animals are apparently eaten. (Hart and Timm, 1978)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Aquatic genets have been reported by the Bambuti to occasionally eat cultivated cassava tubers left in streams to soak before the flour preparation process. Given the rarity of aquatic genets, this is unlikely to have an economically significant impact on these people. (Hart and Timm, 1978)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

In some portions of its range G. piscivora is considered by indigenous people to be extremely rare, whereas other groups report it as being more common. Very little is known about the species, so determination of its conservation status is difficult. The equatorial forests in which G. piscivora lives are relatively undisturbed and unfragmented. This is due to their inaccessibility, low human population, and poor soil for agriculture. The major threats to this area are habitat loss due to mining and logging. Because of their dependence on fish prey acquatic genets may be vulnerable to the accumulation of toxins and metals in aquatic systems as a result of mining activities. Aquatic genets have only been found in the equatorial forests of Zaire, so preservation of this ecosystem is critical to their survival. (Hart and Timm, 1978; Van Rompaey, 1988; "Northeastern Congolian Lowland Forests", 2002)

Other Comments

The thirteen specimens obtained prior to the study conducted by Hart and Timm were collected from the forests of Congo (then Zaire). One exception was a skin purchased in the Butemo region, which is outside the known range of G. piscivora. This animal was probably captured in the lowland forest and then removed for tanning and sale. (Hart and Timm, 1978)

Aquatic genets were previously known by the name Osbornictis piscivora.


Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Amy Roosenberg (author), Andrews University, Tom Goodwin (editor), Andrews University.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

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.


an animal that mainly eats meat


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.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats fish


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).


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


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


World Wildlife Federation. 2002. "Northeastern Congolian Lowland Forests" (On-line ). World Wildlife Federation Full Report. Accessed 10/17/2002 at

Allen, J. 1919. Preliminary Notes on African Carnivora. Journal of Mammalogy, 1: 23-31.

Hart, J., R. Timm. 1978. Observations on the Aquatic Genet in Zaire. Carnivore, 1: 130-132.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Van Rompaey, H. 1988. Osbornictis piscivora. Mammalian Species, 309: 1-4.