Asian palm civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) are native to regions within and around Asia, ranging as far east as the Philippines and as far west as Kashmir. They are widespread but are mostly found in southern China, northern Himalayas, southern India, and islands in the Indian Ocean, South China Sea, and the Philippine Sea. Populations of the Asian palm civet are seen in Sumatra, Bhutan, Java, Borneo, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Nepal, Singapore, and the Sundas Islands. (Duckworth, et al., 2011; Grzimek, et al., 2004)
Asian palm civets can live in a variety of habitats. They naturally live in temperate and tropical forests, but in developed areas they are also found in parks, suburban gardens, plantations, and fruit orchards. Where these civets choose to live depends mostly on the availability of food and presence of areas they can rest in, like tree hollows, rock crevices, or dense foliage. Asian palm civets are arboreal so they spend most of their time in fruit trees and fig trees, preferring the tallest trees with very dense canopies and vines for seclusion and protection. Their elevation range extends up to about 2,000 feet. (Duckworth, et al., 2011; Grzimek, et al., 2004; Nowak, 1999)
Asian palm civets are frequently called “weasel cats” due to their similar appearance to both animals. Asian palm civets are small, weighing only about three kilograms with an average body length of 50 centimeters, and a tail that is 48 centimeters long. They have elongated bodies with short legs, and a tail that is almost as long as their head and body combined. Their nose is pointed and protrudes from their small face. They have faces mostly like cats, but palm civets have longer and flatter skulls. Relative to their head, palm civets have large dark eyes and large pointed ears. The coat of Asian palm civets are short, coarse, and are usually black or gray with black-tipped guard hairs all over. Like racoons, palm civets faces are banded and have a white patch of fur below and above the eyes and on each side of the nose. They can be recognized by the dark stripes down their back and the three rows of black spots freckled on each side of their body and covering their legs. However, these markings are less prominent in juveniles. Unlike other civets, Asian palm civets tails do not have black rings. Rather, they are just tipped black on the very end. Another distinguishing factor that their neck hair grows backwards, whereas other members of the civet family have forward growing neck hair. Palm civets have more specialized teeth for an omnivorous diet than other civets that mostly eat meat. Asian palm civets have teeth that are weaker and pointed, and the carnassials, that are apt for slicing meat, are less developed. Having plantigrade feet, Asian palm civets walk like bears and racoons, with their entire sole on the ground. They have naked soles, their claws are semi-retractile, and their third and fourth toes are partly fused. All these features make them excellent climbers and help them as they hunt. Finally, both males and females of this species have a perineal scent gland under their tail, resembling testicles; the feature that gave them their scientific name. This gland is located within a double-pocket pouch under the skin of the abdomen, and is used to spray in defense, to mark territory, and for communication with others of the species. (Burton, 1968; Grzimek, et al., 2004; Wemmer and Murtaugh, 1981)
Asian palm civets are nocturnal and secretive so their reproductive behavior has mostly been observed in a zoo setting and their mating system is unknown. It is known that they are viviparous and typically gives birth in tree hollows. Despite being generally solitary, Asian palm civets come together in the same resting trees to continuously mate for a period of one to fifteen days. (Duckworth, et al., 2011; Nowak, 1999)
Asian palm civets find mates using scent markings from their anal glands, indicating each civets age, sex, receptivity, kin relationship, and if they are familiar. Asian palm civets are sexually receptive all year with an average estrous cycle of about 82 days. They typically have up to two litters per year with kittens being born from October to December. They go into resting trees to mate, give birth, and take care of young, spending the whole mating period in their tree of choice. Couples tend to choose trees for this period in close proximity to other members of their group. After a gestation period of two months, Asian palm civets give birth to two to five kittens in tree hollows or boulder crevices for secrecy and protection. Kittens are born with their eyes closed and fur covering their bodies. Palm civet babies are very small, weighing only about 80 grams at birth. At 11 days, their eyes open and by two months old are weaned. After about three months, these civets are considered full grown, but they are not sexually mature until they are about one year old. (Grzimek, et al., 2004; Nowak, 1999)
Asian palm civets are classified as altrical, meaning the young need care from their parents after birth. Little is known about parental investment in Asian palm civets since the young do not leave the tree hollows that they are born in until after they are weaned. However, it is thought that females are responsible for care of the young, providing milk for nourishment from their mammary glands, as well as being in charge of weaning them. (Duckworth, et al., 2011)
Asian palm civets typically live anywhere from 15 to 20 years. They live longer in captivity, living for as long as 24 years and 5 months. (Duckworth, et al., 2011)
Asian palm civets are known for are being nocturnal, arboreal, and mostly solitary. Predation and availability of food are the main factors that determine the social organization and activity of Asian palm civets. They are only active during the night, resting in trees during the day. It has been noted that civets are active from dusk to dawn, being more active on darker nights than those illuminated by a bright moon. They tend to be more active at the start of dusk, mostly searching for food, then finding a rest site as dawn approaches. During the day, when palm civets rest, they curl up in the tree holes, inside rock crevices, or among vines. When food supplies are steady in their region, palm civets typically rest in the same tree every day. It is thought that Asian palm civets developed their nocturnal behavior as a way to avoid predators that are active during the day. Typically, palm civets break up their activities with short periods of rest or comfort behaviors like grooming, stretching, or clawing. Males are a lot more active than the females, and the dominant males are more active than the submissive ones. All palm civets are more active when food is in ample supply and when fewer predators are out. The presence of food also affects whether or not civets have overlapping territories or not. When food is readily available throughout the region, the territories do not overlap, but when civets need to search for food they typically wander into others territories. Males travel further in a day than females, and have a typical range of movement of seventeen square kilometers. Asian palm civets are both foragers and hunters. They are like cats in that they often stalk prey from a distant hiding place and then pounce. They also go from tree to tree searching for fruit, or scavenge and dig through the ground for worms. They are expert climbers, aided by their claws and strongly grasping hind feet. However, due to their non-prehensile tail, they are less agile than other civets. For that reason, they move slower and need to grasp branches to move from tree to tree, instead of jumping. (Duckworth, et al., 2011; Grzimek, et al., 2004; Wemmer and Murtaugh, 1981)
Generally, Asian palm civets remain in forested areas during the majority of their life in a typical area ranging from 1.4 to 50 square kilometers. Several studies on the range and movement habits of Asian palm civets using radio-tracking collars. They found that males have much larger ranges than females, at 17 square kilometers and 2 square kilometers, respectively. Throughout the night they travel several hundred meters, with a mean distance of 215 meters, mostly in the search of food. (Duckworth, et al., 2011; Rabinowitz, 1991)
Civets are typically silent, but can make a noise that sounds similar to meows. They also snarl, hiss, and spit when they are alarmed or harassed. Instead of using vocalizations, the Asian palm civets use their scent gland as their primary means of communication. They mark their ranges by dragging their anal glands on the ground. Asian palm civets rarely communicate vocally other than when they are agitated or being attacked. They generally rely on scent-markings and olfactory responses to communicate. They are able to secrete self-identifying odors from their perineal gland, urine, feces, and skin glands. They mark substrates predominately by dragging their perineal gland on top of them, but they also rub their ear-neck region and heels, and drag their anus. Males mark objects with their scent a lot more frequently than females of the species. This is probably because males are more territorial and dominant than females. Scents left from the dragging the perineal gland remain in the environment longer than any other scent Asian palm civets produce and are used as a long-term source of information about that animal. (Rozhnov and Yu, 2003)
Asian palm civets are sometimes compared to raccoons in North America, in that they fill a similar niche. They are opportunistic and adaptable, eating whatever is available; however, they are mostly frugivorous, preferring berries and pulpy fruits over anything else. Palm civets of Java are said to feed on over 35 different species of trees, shrubs, and creepers. Asian palm civets climb fruit trees to get their food. Their favorite trees to feed from are fig trees and palm trees, hence the origin of one of its common names. Palm civets are noted for their ability to pick the best and ripest fruit, leaving the others for later. They are particularly fond of chiku, mangoes, bananas, rambutan, and papayas. Other than fruits, Asian palm civet are very fond of the sap from the flowers of sugar palm trees (Arenga pinnata) that are found throughout their natural range. This sap has been used by the indigenous people of the areas to make sweet liquor by fermenting the sugar sap, which is called "toddy", giving them their other common name, the toddy cat. They also drink the nectar of silk cotton trees (Ceiba petandra) and the stems of the apocynaceae tree. Since Asian palm civets are foragers, they are frequently found in urban gardens, plantations, and orchards looking for food. In addition to their normal diet of fruit, civets also eat rats, shrews, mice, birds, insects, worms, seeds, eggs, reptiles, snails, scorpions, and more. (Burton, 1968; Duckworth, et al., 2011; Grzimek, et al., 2004; Wemmer and Murtaugh, 1981)
The arboreal and nocturnal characteristics of palm civets are thought to have developed as a mechanism to avoid predators. They are most commonly hunted by large cats, like tigers and leopards, and reptiles, like large snakes and crocodiles. ("Asian Palm Civet", 2012; Grzimek, et al., 2004)
Asian palm civet eat the seeds of many trees in its area, like palm trees (Pinanga kuhlii and Pinanga zavana). They are prime contributors to the dispersal of these seeds, since they tend to pass them in their feces several hundred meters from where the seeds were consumed. This also encourages the seeds to germinate, which helps forests regenerate. (Burton, 1968)
One of the earliest uses that humans have used Asian palm civets for was their sweet-smelling musk. In the past it was used to treat such things as scabies, but today it is only used for perfume. To get civet oil, the scent gland must be scraped out with a special tool, which is a difficult task and if not done properly is painful for the civet. The musk can also be produced when the civet is harassed. Often, this industry is supported by trappers that go into the wild and capture wild civets to obtain their oil. People also use civets as rodent catchers, since they eat rats and mice. (Duckworth, et al., 2011; Nowak, 1999)
Asian palm civets are best known for aiding in the production of an expensive coffee, Kopi luwak, by passing coffee cherries through their digestive tract. As the cherries go through palm civets digestive tracts, they get a unique “gamy” flavor and people extract these pits from the civet feces. This coffee is in high demand because of civets tendencies to only pick the ripest coffee cherries. Kopi luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world, selling for over one hundred dollars a pound. (Duckworth, et al., 2011; Nowak, 1999)
The most common problem that Asian palm civets cause humans is raiding of plantations and orchards for their fruits. Owners of these lands retaliate by killing them. Also, civets that live in roofs or in barns make a lot of noises at night, making people think of them as a nuisance. (Duckworth, et al., 2011)
Asian palm civets are not considered to be in danger of extinction, but in their native areas laws protect them, like Malaysia and Sichuan, China. They are also protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and they are listed as vulnerable under China's red list for excessive hunting. According to the IUCN, Asian palm civets are of little concern because they have a wide distribution, large populations, are highly adaptable, and have a stable population trend. Even though palm civets are not currently in danger, their habitats are getting increasingly smaller due to over-logging and clearing of land for palm oil plantations. Some governments have started monitoring the rate of logging and requiring developers to get permits or licenses to do so. There also has been an effort to replant some of the lost forests. (Duckworth, et al., 2011)
These civets are known by many names, such as Asian palm civets, common palm civets, toddy cats, musang, and luwak. Their name varies based on behavior of civets and the region in which they are found. Even though common palm civets are one of the most common species of civets, and the most common mammalian carnivore on Palawan island in the Philippines, it is one of the least studied mammals. Little is known about their behavior due to their nocturnal, quiet, and secretive nature. (Duckworth, et al., 2011; Grzimek, et al., 2004)
Jessica Nelson (author), Sierra College, Laura Podzikowski (editor), Special Projects.
living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.
uses sound to communicate
living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.
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.
Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.
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.
parental care is carried out by females
an animal that mainly eats leaves.
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.
an animal that mainly eats fruit
an animal that mainly eats seeds
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.
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).
eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
an animal that mainly eats nectar from flowers
active during the night
an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals
found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.
the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.
rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.
communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.
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.
living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.
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.
breeding takes place throughout the year
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Burton, M. 1968. University Dictionary of Mammals of the World. New York, NY: Crowell.
Duckworth, J., P. Widmann, C. Custodio, J. Gonzalez, A. Jennings, G. Veron. 2011. "Paradoxurus hermaphroditus" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed March 14, 2012 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/41693/0.
Grzimek, B., N. Schlager, D. Olendorf. 2004. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale.
Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Rabinowitz, A. 1991. Behavior and movements of sympatric civet species in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, Thailand. Journal of Zoology, 223/2: 281-298.
Rozhnov, V., V. Yu. 2003. Roles of different types of excretions in mediated communication by scent marks of the common palm civet, Paradoxurus hermaphroditus Pallas, 1777 (Mammalia, Carnivora). Biology Bulletin, 30/6: 584-590.
Wemmer, C., J. Murtaugh. 1981. Copulatory behavior and reproduction in the binturong, Arctictus binturong. Journal of Mammalogy, 62/2: 342-352. Accessed March 20, 2012 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1380710.