Viverricula indicasmall Indian civet

Geographic Range

Viverricula indica inhabits areas across Asia, from southern and central China in the east through Indochina and India. Its range also stretches south into the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali. This species has been introduced to Zanzibar, Madagascar, Comoros, and Socotra (islands off the East coast of Africa) as well as several islands in the Philippines. (Duckworth, et al., 2008; Nowak, et al., 2005; Roots, 2006)


The habitat of small Indian civets is highly variable, as they have adapted to a wide variety of different living conditions throughout their vast geographic range. In many places, they live in close proximity to humans, and have not suffered due to human encroachment. In fact, in many places they are most commonly seen feeding on poultry and living in gutters or outhouses or even garbage dumps. Small Indian civets prefer open areas, dense rainforest sightings (with camera traps) occur much less frequently than sightings in riverine, deciduous forest, and grassland environments. They are typically found at lower altitudes, although their adaptability has rendered exact limits difficult to define. (Duckworth, et al., 2008; Nowak, et al., 2005)

Physical Description

Small Indian civets have brown, yellow, or tawny orange pelage ornamented with black and white rings on their necks, small spots on the body which converge into six to eight dark stripes on the back toward the tail, and black-and-white banded tails. The paws are typically dark brown or black, and the breast is a lighter brown or gray, with few if any markings. Small Indian civets are distinguished from closely related civets (Viverra) by their significantly smaller size, lack of a dorsal crest of fur, smaller gap between their ears, and shorter rostra. Males are generally larger than females. (Nowak, et al., 2005; Roots, 2006; Tate, 1947)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    2 to 4 kg
    4.41 to 8.81 lb
  • Average mass
    2.7 kg
    5.95 lb
  • Range length
    750 to 1060 mm
    29.53 to 41.73 in


Viverricula indica is almost completely solitary and asocial, except during mating season. Mating typically occurs once a year. The processes by which mates are chosen is largely unknown. There is no data on whether individuals associate more with former mates or show preferences to mates which have any specific morphology. (Chuang and Lee, 1993; Xu, et al., 1995)

The civet gland has been shown to be of great importance to reproduction. It is likely the chemicals emitted by this gland attract mates to each other or demonstrate which animals are in estrus. During periods of estrus, both males and females deposit civet oil from their glands on many types of objects. In a study of reproduction in captivity, males rubbed their civet oil on cages of both other male and female individuals, while females rubbed their oils only on their own cages. This could show male dominance or a form of male competition for mates and female mate choice. According to the same study, males also made a unique "da-da-da" sound while excited. The male chased the female and then sniffed her anus prior to copulation. (Hayssen, et al., 1993; Xu, et al., 1995)

In captivity, researchers in China have shown that Viverricula indica has two estrus periods. The majority of individuals came into heat from February to April, but a few came into heat in August and September. In the wild, little is known about estrus cycles in this species. It is thought that animals can enter estrus at any time of year in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In Madagascar, the breeding season is thought to be September to October. Data for newborn animals through weaning is largely unavailable. Available information comes from animals in captivity. Females give birth to from 2 to 5 young that are weaned at 4 to 4.5 months old. (Hayssen, et al., 1993; Xu, et al., 1995)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding seems to occur once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding can occur throughout the year in some areas. Breeding may be season in other areas.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 5
  • Range weaning age
    4 to 4.5 months

Little research on parental investment has been done, but females wean their young at roughly four months. Females are probably the sole providers of parental care. (Hayssen, et al., 1993; Murphy, 2004; Nowak, et al., 2005)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


Data is not available on the lifespan of wild animals. In captivity several sources report maximum lifespans of twenty years or more. (Murphy, 2004; Nowak, et al., 2005)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    22 (high) years


Small Indian civets are generally solitary and nocturnal. Occasionally, pairs are formed (for mating and hunting). In areas not disturbed by humans, they have been reported to sometimes also hunt by day. Small Indian civets are primarily terrestrial, though they also climb well. Individuals sleep in burrows or hollow logs. They can dig their own burrows, but also occupy abandoned burrows of other species. In suburban habitats they use gutters or other hollow, dark spaces as makeshift burrows. (Nowak, et al., 2005)

Home Range

Small Indian civets are territorial, as individuals avoid the scent of other individuals except during estrus. Unfortunately, there has been no research on the subject of territoriality in this species. A radio collar study of the movements of a single individual in Thailand reported that it had moved 0.83 square kilometers in a month and 3.1 kilometers in a year. (Nowak, et al., 2005)

Communication and Perception

Because small Indian civets are solitary, communication is minimal except before and during mating. They use both acoustic and chemical communication as part of the mating process. When animals are not paired or mating, scent markings (urine and feces) are probably the only means of communication and may warn others of territory boundaries. (Xu, et al., 1995)

Food Habits

Although some viverrids feed primarily on fruit, small Indian civets are primarily carnivorous. They eat mainly small vertebrates, especially rodents. However, they are also opportunistic and will eat fruit, carrion, and human garbage. They have been reported preying on small pets and livestock as well. (Chuang and Lee, 1993; Murphy, 2004; Nowak, et al., 2005; Roots, 2006; Tate, 1947)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • carrion
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • roots and tubers
  • fruit


Small Indian civets have few natural predators. They are opportunistically taken when weak, sick, or injured by larger predators. They are occasionally eaten by humans and domestic dogs. Their first reaction when confronted with a potential threat is to run and hide. They are quick, climb well, and are well camouflaged by their striped coats. They are also mainly nocturnal and hide in burrows for the majority of the day. If confronted or cornered, they will bite and claw in self-defense. (Duckworth, et al., 2008; Nowak, et al., 2005)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Small Indian civets seem to have adapted to fill a niche different than similar species: the larger members of genus Viverra are speculated to be large enough to be ecologically independent of V. indica due to marginalized competition. Their primary ecological impact may be to control rodent populations. Their high adaptability means they are found in many kinds of environments and can switch foraging strategies opportunistically. Ecological impacts, therefore, vary across their range. In Madagascar, it is likely that the thriving populations of V. indica have caused a decrease in size of populations of falanoucs (Eupleres goudotii) and Malagasy civets (Fossa fossana) due to competition. Little is known about status and ecology of populations of V. indica on Socotra and Zanzibar.

Small Indian civets can carry diseases, but their role as a disease vector seems to be minimal. They are affected by a variety of external parasites. However, little research has been done on V. indica as a host species, and therefore further details are largely unknown. (Nowak, et al., 2005; Tate, 1947)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Small Indian civets eat disease-causing pests, especially mice and rats and are sometimes sold as pets to control rodents. Many native peoples keep small Indian civets to harvest the civet oil that these animals produce from special glands near their genitals. Their pelts are sold as exotic fur.

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Small Indian civets can bite if cornered or if captured in self-defense. Although rare, they can carry rabies, which is potentially deadly for other animals and humans. Small Indian civets are fond of eating chickens when living in close proximity to humans and can eat small household pets. As a result they are considered pestd in some areas.

Conservation Status

Although its natural habitat has become compromised by human encroachment, Viverricula indica continues to thrive, and the overall population trend is reported to be "steady" by IUCN. Small Indian civets are highly adaptable and human encroachment does not seem to have a very negative impact on their range. They are minimally threatened by hunting for pelts and killing by farmers to protect livestock. They are widely considered pests and have become a dominant competitor in Madagascar where they were introduced. There is therefore a much greater concern for the conservation of other species which it affects than there is for V. indica itself. (Duckworth, et al., 2008)

Other Comments

Viverricula indica is most commonly known as lesser oriental civets, but is also called rasses, little civets, seven-banded civets, or small Indian civets. It is the only member of the genus Viverricula, and has ten recognized subspecies. Despite its widespread distribution and commonness in some areas, very little research has been done on Viverricula indica. Most data comes from captive individuals, not from research on wild animals. (Duckworth, et al., 2008; Xu, et al., 1995)


Ethan Shirley (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor, instructor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.



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

World Map


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.

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


flesh of dead animals.

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.


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.


union of egg and spermatozoan


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.


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


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).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


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.


active during the night


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


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.


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

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


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


lives alone


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


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

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


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.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


Chuang, S., L. Lee. 1993. Food habits of three carnivore species (Viverricula indica, Herpestes urva, and Melogale moschata) in Fushan Forest, northern Taiwan. Journal of Zoology, 243(1): 71-79. Accessed April 09, 2009 at

Duckworth, J., R. Timmins, D. Muddapa. 2008. "Viverricula indica" (On-line). 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed April 01, 2009 at

Hayssen, V., A. Van Tienhoven, A. Van Tienhoven, S. Asdell. 1993. Asdell's Patterns of Mammalian Reproduction: A Compendium of Species-specific Data. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Accessed April 09, 2009 at,M1.

Murphy, C. 2004. "Small Indian Civet Information" (On-line). Accessed April 06, 2009 at

Nguyen, Q., V. Nguyen, X. Ngo, T. Nguyen. 2003. Evaluation of the wildlife trade in Na Hang District. Ha Noi: Government of Viet Nam (FPD)/UNOPS/UNDP/Scott Wilson Asia-Pacific Ltd.. Accessed April 09, 2009 at

Nowak, R., E. Walker, D. MacDonald, R. Kays. 2005. Walker's Carnivores of the World. New York: JHU Press. Accessed April 01, 2009 at,M1.

Roots, C. 2006. Nocturnal Animals. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group. Accessed April 09, 2009 at"viverricula+indica"&lr=&as_brr=0&as_pt=ALLTYPES&ei=E8feSaTTEY2INcy0_L8O.

Tate, G. 1947. Mammals of Eastern Asia. New York: MacMillan Company. Accessed April 06, 2009 at

Xu, H., B. Zhu, H. Sheng. 1995. A Study of The Behavior of Small Civet (Viverricula indica) During The Estrus Period. Zoological Research, 16 (4): 359-364. Accessed April 09, 2009 at