Temporal range: 50–0Ma
Eocene to Recent
Viverrids, including (top left to bottom right), species of Paradoxurus, Genetta, Paguma and Arctictis
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Viverridae
Gray, 1821


The Viverridae is a family of small to medium-sized mammals, the viverrids, comprising 15 genera, which are subdivided into 33 species.[1] This family was named and first described by John Edward Gray in 1821.[2]

Viverrids are found all over the Oriental Region and even beyond it across Wallace's line, all over Africa and passing into southern Europe. Their occurrence in Celebes and in some of the adjoining islands shows them to be ancient inhabitants of the tropics of the Old World.[3]


Viverrids have four or five toes to each foot and half retractile claws. There are six cutting teeth in each jaw and true grinders with two tubercular grinders behind in the upper jaw, and one in the lower jaw. The tongue is rough with sharp prickles. There is a pouch or gland beneath the anus, but no coecum.[2]

Viverrids are the most primitive of all the families of aeluroid carnivora and clearly less specialized than the Felidae. In external characters, they are distinguished from the Felidae by the hind foot being five-toed owing to the invariable presence of the first digit, by the retention of the interramal tuft of facial vibrissae, and typically by the longer muzzle and shorter limbs. The skull differs by the position of the post-palatine foramina on the maxilla, almost always well in advance of the maxillo-palatine suture, and usually about the level of the second premolar; by the distinct external division of the auditory bulla into its two elements either by a definite groove or, when rarely this is obliterated, by the depression of the tympanic bone in front of the swollen entotympanic. The typical dental formula is:, but the number may be reduced, although never to the same extent as in the Felidae.[3]

Their flesh-shearing carnassial teeth are relatively undeveloped.[4]

Viverrids range in size from the African linsang with a body length of 33 cm (13 in) and a weight of 650 g (1.43 lb), to the African civet at 84 cm (33 in) and 18 kg (40 lb); although very large binturongs, which can weigh up to 25 kg (55 lb), attain the greatest mass. Their skeletons are similar to those of fossils dating back to the Eocene, up to 50 million years ago. Most have a baculum.

Ecology and behaviour

They are generally solitary and have excellent hearing and vision. Despite their placement in the order Carnivora, they are omnivorous, or, in the case of the palm civet, almost entirely herbivorous.[4]

Favoured habitats include woodland, savanna, mountains and, above all, tropical rainforest. Due to heavy deforestation, many are faced with severe loss of habitat; several species are considered vulnerable such as the rare Hose's palm civet, which is endemic to northern Borneo; the Otter civet is classified as endangered.[1]


In 1821, Gray defined this family as comprising the genera Viverra, Genetta, Herpestes and Suricata.[2] Reginald Innes Pocock later redefined the family as containing a great number of highly diversified genera, and being susceptible of division into several subfamilies, based mainly on the structure of the feet and of some highly specialized scent-glands, derived from the skin, which are present in most of the species and are situated in the region of the external generative organs. He subordinated the subfamilies Hemigalinae, Paradoxurinae, Prionodontinae and Viverrinae to the Viverridae.[3]

The Viverridae comprise:[1]

In 1833, Edward Turner Bennett described the Malagasy fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) and subordinated the Cryptoprocta to the Viverridae.[6] A molecular and morphological analysis based on DNA/DNA hybridization experiments suggests that Cryptoprocta does not belong within the Viverridae but is a member of the Eupleridae.[7]

The African palm civet (Nandinia binotata) resembles the civets of the Viverridae but is genetically distinct and belongs in its own monotypic family, the Nandiniidae. There is little dispute that the Poiana species are viverrids.[1]

Civet × genet hybrids

In The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication Charles Darwin noted: "The Genetta has bred both here and in the Jardin des Plantes, and produced hybrids."[8] Others have also reported civet × genet hybrids.


External links

  • BBC: 'New mammal' seen in Borneo
  • University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web page
  • ITIS page
  • The Straight Dope on Civet Cats
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