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The subfamily Viverrinae, also known as the civet family, is a diverse group of carnivorous mammals found in Africa and Asia.

Comprising 35 species classified into nine genera, these animals are characterized by their long bodies, short legs, and pointed snouts.

The members of this subfamily have a unique ability to secrete musk from specialized glands located near their anus.

This secretion has been used for centuries in perfumes and medicines due to its pungent odor and purported medicinal properties.

Despite being hunted extensively for this reason, many species within the Viverrinae remain widespread across their range, while some are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss or hunting pressure.

In this article, we will explore the taxonomy, morphology, behavior, distribution, and conservation status of the various members that comprise Subfamily Viverrinae.

African civet
African civet, Civettictis civetta, a large African beast looking for food

Taxonomy Of The Viverrinae Subfamily

The Viverrinae subfamily comprises of small to medium-sized carnivores primarily found in Asia and Africa. The subfamily includes 35 species, which are commonly referred to as civets or genets, with varying characteristics and habitats.

This subfamily has a rich evolutionary history, tracing back to the Miocene epoch (~23-5 million years ago). Fossil records suggest that viverrids were once widespread throughout Europe, North America, and Asia; however, they experienced declines due to climate changes and competition from other mammalian groups.

Genetic diversity is one of the defining features of the Viverrinae subfamily. It is believed that this group underwent rapid diversification during the late Oligocene period (28-23 million years ago), leading to their present-day distribution across different continents. Within the subfamily, some species have high genetic variability while others have low levels of diversity.

For instance, African Civet (Civettictis civetta) populations exhibit higher genetic diversity than Small-toothed Palm Civet (Arctogalidia trivirgata) populations. Understanding these patterns can aid conservation efforts for vulnerable species within the Viverrinae subfamily.

Common NameScientific NameGeographic Distribution
Large Indian CivetViverra zibethaSouth and Southeast Asia
Malabar Large-spotted CivetViverra civettinaWestern Ghats of India
Small Indian CivetViverricula indicaSouth and Southeast Asia
African CivetCivettictis civettaSub-Saharan Africa
Abyssinian GenetGenetta abyssinicaNortheast Africa
Bourlon’s GenetGenetta bourloniCentral Africa
Common GenetGenetta genettaSouthern Europe, North Africa, and parts of the Middle East
Cape GenetGenetta tigrinaSouthern Africa
Servaline GenetGenetta servalinaCentral and West Africa
Rusty-spotted GenetGenetta maculataSub-Saharan Africa
Giant Forest GenetGenetta victoriaeCentral and East Africa
Johnston’s GenetGenetta johnstoniCentral and East Africa
Aquatic GenetGenetta piscivoraCentral Africa
Large-spotted CivetViverra megaspilaSoutheast Asia
Owston’s CivetChrotogale owstoniVietnam and Laos
Hose’s CivetDiplogale hoseiBorneo
Malayan CivetViverra tangalungaSoutheast Asia
Large-toothed Ferret CivetViverricula indicaSoutheast Asia
Masked Palm CivetPaguma larvataSoutheast Asia
Golden Palm CivetParadoxurus zeylonensisSouth and Southeast Asia
Brown Palm CivetParadoxurus jerdoniSouth Asia
Common Palm CivetParadoxurus hermaphroditusSouth and Southeast Asia
Himalayan Palm CivetPaguma larvataSouth and Southeast Asia
Masked CivetPaguma spilorhynchaSoutheast Asia
Banded CivetHemigalus derbyanusSoutheast Asia
Malabar CivetViverra civettinaIndia
Small-toothed CivetViverricula malaccensisSoutheast Asia
Otter CivetCynogale bennettiiSoutheast Asia
African LinsangPoiana richardsoniiSub-Saharan Africa
BinturongArctictis binturongSoutheast Asia
Owston’s Palm CivetChrotogale owstoniVietnam and Laos
Sulawesi CivetMacrogalidia musschenbroekiiSulawesi, Indonesia
Tana River MangabeyCercocebus galeritusKenya
Malagasy CivetFossa fossanaMadagascar
Flat-headed Palm CivetPrionodon linsangSoutheast Asia
Small-toothed Palm CivetArctogalidia trivirgataSoutheast Asia

Morphological Characteristics Of Viverrinae Members

Coincidentally, the morphological characteristics of Viverrinae members are diverse and have evolved over time. These adaptations have allowed them to occupy a wide range of ecological niches across Asia and Africa.

Members of this subfamily share common features such as elongated bodies, short legs, and long tails. However, they exhibit considerable variation in body size, coloration patterns, dentition, and limb structure.

The evolutionary history of Viverrinae is traced back to the Oligocene period when their ancestors first appeared. Over time, these mammals underwent numerous changes that distinguished them from other carnivorous families.

For example, some species became arboreal while others remained terrestrial or semiaquatic. Additionally, they adapted their diets to include fruits, insects, small vertebrates, and carrion depending on their habitat requirements.

Understanding the morphology of Viverrinae members provides valuable insights into their biology and ecology which can aid conservation efforts for these unique animals.

Behavioral Traits Of Civet Family Members

Having examined the morphological characteristics of members belonging to the subfamily Viverrinae in the previous section, it is now important to delve into their behavioral traits. As carnivores, these animals are known for their unique traits that have evolved over time in order to adapt and survive in different environments.

One notable behavior among species within this subfamily is scent marking. Members of this group use scent glands located on various parts of their bodies such as anal glands, chin, cheeks, and feet to communicate with each other. The chemical signals produced by these glands serve several purposes such as identifying individuals, establishing territories or social hierarchies, and even attracting mates. This behavior plays a crucial role in maintaining social bonds among members of Viverrinae species.

In addition to scent marking, many civet family members exhibit complex social behaviors that include cooperative hunting, grooming rituals, vocal communication, and parental care towards offspring. These fascinating aspects of their lives provide insight into how they interact with each other and navigate through their environment.

To summarize, understanding the behavioral patterns exhibited by subfamily Viverrinae can reveal insights about their evolutionary history and adaptations necessary for survival. Through scent marking and other forms of social behavior like cooperation during hunts or parenting young ones together; we see them expressing themselves not only physically but also emotionally which adds another layer when studying these creatures’ lives up close!

Close up of wild genet looking for food and climbing tree trunk at night in forest in Catalonia, Spain. Nocturnal mammal

Distribution And Habitat Of The Subfamily Viverrinae

The subfamily Viverrinae comprises a diverse group of carnivorous mammals that are found across Asia and Africa. These animals have varying ecological requirements, which determine their distribution patterns.

In Asia, the subfamily is distributed from India in the west to Indonesia in the east, with some species extending as far north as China and Russia. On the African continent, they are found mainly in the tropical regions south of the Sahara.

The geographical range occupied by members of this subfamily varies depending on their specific needs for habitat types such as forests, grasslands, or wetlands. For instance, some viverrids prefer dense forest habitats while others thrive in open savannahs or riverine areas.

The common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), one of the most widespread members of this subfamily, occurs throughout much of Southeast Asia including Borneo and Sumatra where it inhabits primary and secondary forests, plantations, and suburban areas. The small-toothed civet (Arctogalidia trivirgata) has a more restricted range occurring only on Palawan Island in the Philippines where it occupies lowland rainforests and disturbed habitats near human settlements.

Conservation Status Of Viverrinae Species

The conservation status of Viverrinae species is a matter of concern, as many species within the subfamily are facing population decline due to various anthropogenic factors. These factors include habitat loss and degradation, hunting for bushmeat and fur trade, and illegal trade in exotic pets.

Habitat loss primarily occurs due to deforestation, urbanization, agriculture expansion, and mining activities.

Despite several conservation efforts by governments and non-government organizations (NGOs), the poaching and illegal trade of Viverrinae species continue to pose a significant threat to their survival.

The demand for civet coffee or kopi luwak has resulted in large-scale capture of Asian palm civets from their natural habitats across Southeast Asia. Similarly, African civets are hunted for their musk glands that are used in traditional medicine practices.

Raising awareness among local communities about the ecological importance of Viverrinae species can be an effective strategy to curb illegal trade while promoting sustainable use through ecotourism initiatives.

Use Of Musk In Traditional Medicine And Perfumery

The use of Musk in traditional medicine and perfumery is a practice that dates back centuries. It has been known for its unique scent, which is both alluring and captivating. However, the production of musk raises ethical concerns as it requires killing animals such as deer or muskrats to extract the glandular secretions used in fragrance making.

Musk farming can be seen as an alternative solution to address these ethical concerns while still meeting the demands for musk-based products. This process involves collecting the secretions from live animals without harming them.

Furthermore, synthetic musks have also emerged as a more sustainable option, given their ability to mimic natural scents with minimal environmental impact. Despite these alternatives, some consumers still prefer authentic animal-derived musk due to its perceived superior quality and authenticity.

The challenge remains in balancing consumer preferences with ethical considerations towards wildlife conservation efforts.

Three factors influencing the choice between natural and synthetic musks are:

  1. Cost-effectiveness: Synthetic musks tend to be cheaper than those derived from animals.
  2. Sustainability: Natural resources are limited and finite; therefore, there is a need to explore more sustainable options.
  3. Consumer preference: Some people still value authenticity over sustainability when it comes to fragrances made from real animal sources.


The subfamily Viverrinae is a fascinating group of animals that have captured the attention of wildlife enthusiasts and researchers alike. Taxonomically speaking, they are classified as mammals belonging to the family Viverridae, which includes 35 species spread across several genera. Members of this subfamily possess unique morphological characteristics such as elongated bodies, short legs, pointed snouts, and retractile claws.

In addition to their physical features, members of the Civet family exhibit intriguing behavioral traits like territoriality, scent marking using musk glands, and adaptive feeding habits. These creatures can be found in diverse habitats ranging from rainforests to savannas in Africa and Asia.

Unfortunately, many species within this subfamily face significant threats due to habitat loss and exploitation for traditional medicine and perfumery purposes.

The beauty and complexity of the Viverrinae Subfamily continue to fascinate both experts and non-experts alike. As we strive towards conservation efforts aimed at protecting these magnificent creatures’ habitats from further degradation or destruction by humans, we must recognize their importance in maintaining ecological balance.

Indeed, each member plays an essential role in its respective ecosystem – whether it’s through seed dispersal or acting as prey for larger predators. By understanding the intricacies of their behavior patterns better, we can ensure that future generations will also have the pleasure of witnessing these captivating animals thrive in their natural environments.