African Linsangs (Poiana richardsonii): Ringtails of Central-West Africa

by DerdriuMarriner

Spots and stripes face a controversial fashion history. Some fashionistas like them together while others, not! But they always look good on Central-West Africa’s linsangs.

Browns and greens appear to be super-smart color choices when it comes to self-camouflage in dense forests and thick jungles.

But black and white assume equal effectiveness.
• They in fact blend seamlessly with the play of sunlight filtered from the highest tree canopies, through the shrubby understories, and down to surface vegetation.
• They can work either alone or together, as solids or in patterns.
• But they actually combine together into particularly survival-oriented patterns since colors do not remain uniform in appearance and texture when they daily must interact with the erosion-like effects of heat and moisture.

So one of the savviest patterns ends up being the Central-West African lingsang’s dark spots and stripes against a light-colored body.

Taxidermied African Linsang (Poiana richardsonii) at the Natural History Museum in London.
Taxidermied African Linsang (Poiana richardsonii) at the Natural History Museum in London.

 

Brown-grey and rusty-yellow act as basic body colors for Central-West African linsangs. The corporeal coloring appears uniform on the under-sides. Dark patterns break up the light expanses of the Central-West African lingsang’s upper-sides. The upper design communicates dark, filled-in circles on the arboreal nocturnalist’s:

  • Back;
  • Flanks;
  • Limbs.

It also completes a series of 9+ dark, unevenly-sized rings between the super-long tail’s base and tip. It respectively conveys a straight line and a wavy jaggedness in the black stripe running from the forehead backward to the base of the tail and in the dark stripe separating the elongated head’s dark, fine, sensory whiskers and light-colored, pointed snout from:

  • Big, dark-adapted, rounded eyes;
  • Light, pointed ears with dark interiors.

 

Poiana richardsonii ochraceae: male subadult, with total length of 27.3 inches (695 mm) ~

specimen collected on October 25, 1913, from Akenge, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo
Plate XVII, Figure 2
Plate XVII, Figure 2

 

The coloring camouflages a body whose:

  • Claws are retractile, sharp, short, and strong;
  • Digits number 5 per paw;
  • Extremities offer blurred, fleeting, imbalanced impressions of diminutive sinewiness overall and of shorter fore- than rear-limbs;
  • Perineal glands operate more for communicating and territorializing than for producing civet oil for medicines and perfumes;
  • Soles pander to noiseless forays because of slip-proof treads and pretty impressions because of narrow-striped hind paws.
  • Tail remains beautiful, full, and non-prehensilely (“non-graspingly”) contributory to balance by night and warmth by day.

But scientists also consider that caution joins camouflage. They link patterned coats with:

  • Agile climbing, jumping, leaping, and running;
  • Stinky odors.

Predators may consider themselves warned of exhausting chases and stinky Parthian volleys.

 

Poiana richardsonii ochracea: two left feet ~

A: palmar surface of left fore foot; B: plantar surface of left hind foot
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922 - 1925), Figure 35, p. 146
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922 - 1925), Figure 35, p. 146

 

Predators therefore aim typically for pre-adults. Adult females deliver 2 – 3 newborns every 1 – 2 annual litters. Scientists do not have many details about breeding seasons or mating systems. They do know that newborns emerge blind but covered with the fur that grows close, dense, short, and thick on adult coats. Mothers dominate in raising offspring since pre-adults depend upon maternal milk until weaning. A family life is possible since adults may shelter with another adult and 1 – 3 young. Adults locate 6.56+ feet (2+ meters) above the ground nests made of green, nitrogen-rich foliage. They move frequently throughout their home and territorial ranges, with squirrels hot on their tracks to recycle abandoned, clean, comfortable, secure nests.

 

The nomadism in building, moving, and re-building arises from concerns over:

  • Generational sustainability;
  • Genetic diversity;
  • Group security;
  • Resource availability.

Scientists assume the two Africa-based linsang species to be omnivores (“everything-eaters”) and the two Asia-based species to be carnivores (“meat-eaters”). Central-West African linsangs indeed consume:

  • Insects;
  • Plant material (fruits, grains, leaves, nuts, seeds);
  • Small vertebrates;
  • Young birds.

They die if they do otherwise since Central-West Africa’s rainforests and woodlands harbor heat and moisture extremes. The Central-West African linsang’s bio-geographical distribution also falls within that of:

  • Assiduous hunters of flesh and fur;
  • Busy agriculturalists, loggers, and miners;
  • Predatory raptors and reptiles;
  • Thickly-growing shrubs and trees in the Apocynaceae (dogbane), Caesalpiniaceae (bean), Euphorbiaceae (spurge), and Rubiaceae (bedstraw, coffee, madder) families.

 

 

All of the Central-West African linsang’s wildlife associations appear to cluster at:

  • Altitudes of 984.25 – 3,116.79 feet (300 – 950 meters) above sea level;
  • Evapo-transpirations, precipitations, and temperatures of 55.22 inches (1,402.47 millimeters), 5.89 inches (149.74 millimeters), and 75.74°F (24.3°C).

They therefore belong to super-vegetated elevations in:

  • Cameroon;
  • Central African Republic;
  • Democratic Republic of Congo;
  • Equatorial Guinea;
  • Gabon;
  • Republic of the Congo.

They breech West Africa’s coastal waters with disjunct populations on Bioko Island. But both population centers constitute intact, tropical lowland and montane sylvan environments in which separated Central-West African linsangs evidence similar behaviors of:

  • “Clean-kill” stalking;
  • Prioritizing super-senses over vocalizations;
  • Showcasing aesthetic, agile, waltz-like trots by moving digitigrade (“on the digits”), not plantigrade (“on the soles”).

 

Poiana richardsonii ochracea: skull of subadult male ~ illustration by Baroness Helene F. Ziska (born 1893) ~

(from top to bottom) A: lateral view; D: lateral view of left mandible; E: crown view of lower left dentition; B: palatal view; C: dorsal view
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922 - 1925), Figure 34, p. 145
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922 - 1925), Figure 34, p. 145

 

Adults also articulate similarities in:

  • Dentition: Upper and lower jaws’ respective 6 incisors, 2 canines, 8 premolars, and 2 molars and 6 incisors, 1 canines, 8 premolars, and 4 molars;
  • Head-and-body lengths: 12.99 – 14.96 inches (33 – 38 centimeters);
  • Sole-to-shoulder heights: 5.91 – 7.09 inches (15 – 18 centimeters);
  • Tail lengths: 13.78 – 15.75 inches (35 – 40 centimeters);
  • Weights: 17.64 – 24.69 ounces (500 – 700 grams).

 

species name richardsonii honors Scottish Arctic explorer-naturalist-surgeon Sir John Richardson (November 5, 1787 – June 5, 1865)

lithograph portrait
lithograph portrait

 

Some scientists therefore concur with:

  • Thomas Richard Heywood Thomson’s (1813 – 1876) identification in 1841 of the nominate species Poiana richardsonii richardsonii;
  • Michael Rogers Oldfield Thomas’s (February 21, 1858 – June 16, 1929) and Robert Charles Wroughton’s (August 15, 1849 – August 15, 1921) identification in 1907 of the subspecies P.r. ochracea.

Others still debate Central-West African taxonomic niches.

 

Michael Rogers Oldfield Thomas: brilliant zoologist lent his genius to Poiana genus and identified subspecies Poiana richardsonii ochracea ~

portrait bequeathed by Oldfield Thomas to London's Natural History Museum
oil on canvas by John Ernest Breun (1862-1921)
oil on canvas by John Ernest Breun (1862-1921)

Conclusion

 

Central-West African linsangs get face- and name-recognition from locals and specialists. Experts identify them conversationally as:

  • African linsang;
  • Central African linsang;
  • Central African oyan;
  • Richardson’s linsang.

Villagers know them as:  

  • Linsang africano;
  • Linsang africain;
  • Oyan;
  • Poiane.

Environmentalists opine that Richardson's linsang deserves better than:

  • Death from over-hunting;
  • Recycling into celebratory bush-meat, ceremonial dress, medicine bags, wallets, and wristbands;
  • Stress from agro-industrial- and mining-induced habitat fragmentation and globally-warmed climate change.

All who glimpse or study the elusive, graceful, mysterious, nimble, streamlined, taciturn viverrid (“ferret-like”) mammal indeed realize the specialness of Richardson's linsang in:

  • Controlling vegetation;
  • Dispersing seeds;
  • Eating arthropod pests;
  • Fine-tuning non-vocal skills through image-, scent-, sound-, and touch-related information-sharing.

Fortunately, protected areas authorities recognize the importance too.

 

Poiana richardsonii ochracea: subadult male, with total length of 27.3 inches (695 mm):

specimen collected in Niapu, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on January 22, 1914
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922 - 1925), Plate XX, Figure 1
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922 - 1925), Plate XX, Figure 1

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

African linsang synecology: Aquatic genet (Genetta piscivora), under synonym Osbornictis piscivora ~

carnivorous mammal endemic to northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo ~ illustration by Richard Deckert (1878 - 1971)
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922 - 1925), Plate XVIII
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922 - 1925), Plate XVIII

Sources Consulted

 

"African Linsang Pictures and Facts." The Website of Everything. Retrieved on April 15, 2014.

  • Available at: http://thewebsiteofeverything.com/animals/mammals/Carnivora/Viverridae/Poiana/Poiana-richardsonii.html

"African Linsang (Poiana richardsonii)." ARKive: Species>Mammals. Retrieved on April 15, 2014.

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"African Linsang, Poiana richardsonii." redOrbit Reference Library Mammals. Retrieved on April 15, 2014.

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Allen, J.A. (Joel Asaph). 1922 - 1925. "Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition." Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. XLVII: 73 - 282. Retrieved on April 15, 2014.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/stream/bulletinamerican47ameruoft#page/73/mode/1up

Allen, William, and T.R.H. Thomson. 1968. A Narrative of the Expedition Sent by Her Majesty's Government to the River Niger in 1841 under the Command of Captain H.D. Trotter. In two volumes. Volume I. First edition: 1848; new impression: 1968. London: Frank Cass and Company Ltd. Retrieved on April 15, 2014.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/narrativeofexped01alle

Allen, William, and T.R.H. Thomson. 1968. A Narrative of the Expedition Sent by Her Majesty's Government to the River Niger in 1841 under the Command of Captain H.D. Trotter. In two volumes. Volume I. First edition: 1848; new impression: 1968. London: Frank Cass and Company Ltd. Retrieved on April 15, 2014.

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Bisby, F.A.; Roskov, Y.R.; Orrell, T.M.; Nicolson, D.; Paglinawan, L.E.; Bailly, N.; Kirk, P.M.; Bourgoin, T.; Baillargeon, G.; and Ouvrard, D. (red.). 2011. "Poiana richardsonii." Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2011 Annual Checklist. Reading, UK.Retrieved on April 15, 2014.

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Boudet, Ch. 10 January 2009. "Species Sheet: African Linsang, Richardson's Linsang, Central African Linsang, Central African Oyan, Oyan." Mammals' Planet: Vs n°4, 04/2010. Retrieved on April 15, 2014.

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Boudet, Ch. 10 January 2009. "Subspecies Sheet: Western Central African Linsang." Mammals' Planet: Vs n°4, 04/2010. Retrieved on April 15, 2014.

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Boudet, Ch. 10 January 2009. "Subspecies Sheet: Eastern Central African Linsang." Mammals' Planet: Vs n°4, 04/2010. Retrieved on April 15, 2014.

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Gillette, Corinna. "Poiana richardsonii - African Linsang (On-line)." Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved on April 15, 2014.

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Harrington, R.; Berghaier, R.; Hearn, G. 2002. "The Status of Carnivores on Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea." Small Carnivore Conservation 27:19-22.

Hunt, Robert M., Jr. 2001. "Basicranial Anatomy of the Living Linsangs Prionodon and Poiana (Mammalia, Carnivora, Viverridae), with Comments on the Early Evolution of Aeluroid Carnivorans." American Museum Novitates, No. 3330 (April 26, 2001): 1 - 24.

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Hunter, Luke; and Barrett, Priscilla. 2011. A Field Guide to the Carnivores of the World. London, Cape Town, Sydney, Auckland: New Holland Publishers (UK) Ltd.

Jennings, A. P.; and Veron, J. 2009. "Family Viverridae (Civets, Genets, and Oyans)." In: Don E. Wilson and Russel Mittermeier (Hrsg.) Handbook of the Mammals of the World Volume 1: Carnivores. Lynx Edicions.

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Kingdon, Jonathon; Happold, David; Butynski, Thomas; Hoffmann, Michael; Happold, Meredith; and Jan Kalina (eds.). 2013. Mammals of Africa, Volume 5: Carnivores, Pangolins, Equids and Rhinoceroses, edited by Jonathan Kingdon and Michael Hoffmann. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Kondo, H.; Tesar, J.; Cloud, D.; Kagan, L. (eds.). 1972. Civets, Genets, and Linsangs, Vol. 2, 3rd Edition. Milan: Fratelli Fabbri Editori.

Larivière, Serge. 2004. "African Linsang: Poiana richardsonii." P. 341 in Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Second Edition. Volume 14: Mammals III, edited by Michael Hutchins, Devra G. Kleiman, Valerius Geist, and Melissa C. McDade. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, Inc., division of Thomson Learning Inc.

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  • Available at: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/342612/linsang

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view of Bioko (in distance) from Limbe, port city and center for fishing, oil, and tourism, Cameroon's South West Region:

island habitat of disjunct population of African linsang
Gulf of Guinea
Gulf of Guinea
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Aerial view of Africa Mount Nyiragongo, Virunga Volcanoes, Democratic Republic of Congo: photo by Adrian Warren ~

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle - Ardea Wildlife Pets

Double Waterfall on Bioko Island: photo by Ian Nichols ~

Bioko Island, homeland of disjunct population of African linsang
Double Waterfall on Bioko Island

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/20/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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DerdriuMarriner on 04/23/2014

Mira, Thank you! Whenever possible, I like to include images -- such as botanical or zoological illustrations -- which were created around the time of the scientist's description, or as close to that time as possible, in order to recapture the atmosphere of those times. I'm glad that you appreciate the images selected for my articles.
It's also my way of honoring illustrators from bygone times; quite a few of them have faded, sadly, into obscurity, so that sometimes not even their full names -- nor their birth or death dates -- are discernible.

Mira on 04/23/2014

Yes, you're doing a great job reminding people of these scientists. I love that you include photos. Reminds me of old books and magazines, with plenty of period photos/portraits. They're gone from nature books, travel books, etc.

DerdriuMarriner on 04/23/2014

Mira, Me, too, I am fascinated with the microcosm, visible via microscopes, and the macrocosm, visible to the eyes, unaided, or aided via glasses (!) or telescopes.
Thank you for asking about Poiana's etymology. Your appreciation of nature is greatly appreciated. :-)
A particular interest for me is the origins of scientific names, especially those honoring nature lovers whose stories have faded or been lost over time.

Mira on 04/23/2014

Yes, you're so right. I, too, think that artists derive inspiration from lesser-known images of the natural world, as you say. Life through a microscope and cosmic images are fascinating, too.
I now see where Poiana as a genus name came from :). Thank you :)

DerdriuMarriner on 04/18/2014

Mira, "computer-generated imagery and invented imagery at that" ~ :-)
It's my understanding that the inspiration for alien creatures in film comes from the amazing parade of fauna on this planet, such as closeups of insects' eyes, etc. It's easy to have thoughts of strangeness, of exoticism, for creatures which live out their lives, away from "civilization," in lesser known reaches of the earth. It's exciting that the Age of Exploration has never really ended.
The genus name "Poiana" is thought to be derived from Fernando Póo Island, now known as Bioko, which is the type locality for the genus. The island's previous name honors 15th century Portuguese explorer and navigator Fernão do Pó, who discovered islands in the Gulf of Guinea in 1472.
"Clearing" is such a lovely meaning in Romanian.

Mira on 04/18/2014

They look so strange to me, I keep thinking of computer-generated imagery, and invented imagery at that. Next thing I'm thinking, after reading some of your recent articles, is that they live in Australia. Neither is the case. So then I'm shocked at how foreign so much of nature seems to me. We know so very little of the life on this earth. The name linsang does ring a bell though. Probably came across it at some point somewhere. But where does Poiana come from? In Romanian "poiana" means clearing -- as in a forest.
I'm surprised at their dappled skin, but you're right, it's great camouflage.

DerdriuMarriner on 04/16/2014

cmoneyspinner, Such an honor that your first view of a taxidermical African linsang happened here! Thank you for pinning this on your Mother Africa board on Pinterest.

cmoneyspinner on 04/16/2014

WOW! Out of all the stuffed animals I've seen, I don't think I've ever seen a Central-Northwest African linsang. Pinning this to my Mother Africa board on Pinterest.

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