Large-Spotted Civets (Viverra megaspila): Ringtails of Mainland Southeast Asia

by DerdriuMarriner

Large-spotted civets display blotched bodies, ringed tails, and striped necks. They favor dense lowland forests with river access. Hunters easily snare them in ground-level dens.

Large-spotted civets (Viverra megaspila) can be misidentified as large Indian (V. zibetha), Malabar large-spotted (V. civettina), and Malay (V. tangalunga) civets. Bio-geography causes confusion over Indian and large-spotted joint homelands in:
• Cambodia;
• China;
• Laos;
• Malaysia, with Malay civets;
• Myanmar;
• Thailand;
• Vietnam.
Natural distributional ranges do not contribute to mistaken large-spotted and Malabar civet identities since the latter natively inhabit southern India’s Western Ghats mountain range.

Biology nevertheless emerges as problematic when wildlife-lovers examine live specimens outside native habitats or preserved skins in museum collections. For example, all four civets exhibit strikingly ringed tails and striped necks. Near-threatened Indian civets nevertheless lack the respectively blotched, dotted, and marked bodies of super-vulnerable large-spotted, ultra-rare Malabar, and unthreatened Malay civets.


Hill and montane forests at lower altitudes are the natural habitats of large-spotted civets. They can be composed of deciduous, dry dipterocarp (“winged fruit”), or evergreen species. They preferentially cluster primary-growth, tall trees within uninterrupted blocks covering 193.05+ square miles (500+ square kilometers) at elevations below 984.25 – 1,312.34 feet (300 – 400 meters) above sea level. They count among alternative configurations:

  • Deciduous forest mosaics with riverine galleries and semi-evergreen patches;
  • Degraded woodlands with persisting sylvan structure;
  • Evergreen forest – grassland edges;
  • Evergreen/semi-evergreen forests at heights of 1,312.34 – 2,624.67 feet (400 – 800 meters) above sea level;
  • Lowland semi-evergreen forests.

What unites all of the above-mentioned, more or less preferred habitats is the availability of:

  • Dense, ground-level vegetation;
  • Surface-accessible water bodies.


Large-Spotted Civet storied landscapes: Mandalay, in north central Myanmar (Burma), last royal capital (February 13, 1857 - November 28, 1885) founded by King Mindon (July 8, 1808 – October 1, 1878), to fulfill a prophecy, on 2,400th jubilee of Buddhism.

Mandalay Hill, a sacred place of pagodas and monasteries, also appeals to Large-Spotted Civets with dense vegetation and abundantly accessible water.
Mandalay Hill
Mandalay Hill


Niches within forested and wooded habitats accommodate arboreal or terrestrial life cycles and natural histories. Depending upon the species, Africa’s and Asia’s civets can be found either in the trees or on the ground. Mammalogists historically deplore the scientific community’s general unfamiliarity with the biology of elusive, reclusive large-spotted civets. But they typically describe large-spotted civets as:

  • Avoiding tree-based activities;
  • Favoring ground-level lifestyles.

They hypothesize that large-spotted civet survival and sustainability depends upon:

  • Denning among dense thickets and vines, around fallen timber, or in shallow burrows;
  • Foraging through herbaceous and woody vegetation for fruits and roots;
  • Hunting small mammals and possibly amphibians, birds, and reptiles.

They suspect that riparian (river-side) preferences reflect dietary predilections for:

  • Crustaceans;
  • Fish.


Large-Spotted Civet historic landscape: Ban Gioc - Detian Falls (Vietnamese: Thác Bản Giốc; Chinese: Détiān pùbù), two waterfalls on Quây Sơn River straddling border between China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Vietnam's Cao Bằng Province.

Despite ideal terrain, Large-Spotted Civets are believed to have vanished from the landscape of northern Vietnam and southwestern China; last reported sighting in China dates back to 1998.
northeastern Vietnam - southwestern China
northeastern Vietnam - southwestern China


Other civets claim within their bio-geographies the homelands of the large-spotted civets. Scientists consider such occurrences as possibilities for sympatric (geographically overlapping) habitations. They exclude from sympatry with large-spotted civets:

  • Brown (Paradoxurus montanus), golden dry-zone (P. stenocephalus), and golden wet-zone (P. aureus) palm civets of Sri Lanka;
  • Hose’s palm civets (Diplogale hosei) of Borneo;
  • Malabar large-spotted civets (Viverra civettina) of India;
  • Sulawesi palm civets (Macrogalidia musschenbroekii) of Indonesia.

With one exception, the above-mentioned allopatric (geographically differentiated) civet species express physiques as distinct as their bio-geographies from the large-spotted civet’s appearance and occurrence. All but Malabar large-spotted civets therefore remain uniquely recognizable from large-spotted civets when the five species find their representatives artificially mixed in captivity or museums.


Large Indian Civet (Viverra zibetha) shares homelands with Large-Spotted Civet.

illustration by Jacques de Sève (active 1742 - 1788)
Johann Christian Daniel Schreber, Die Säugthiere in Abbildungen nach der Natur: Plates 81 - 165 (1774 - 1846), Plate CXII
Johann Christian Daniel Schreber, Die Säugthiere in Abbildungen nach der Natur: Plates 81 - 165 (1774 - 1846), Plate CXII


Mammalogists attribute sympatry with large-spotted civets to:

  • Asian common (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), gem-faced masked (Paguma larvata), and small-toothed three-striped (Arctogalidia trivirgata) palm civets in Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam;
  • Banded palm civets (Hemigalus derbyanus) in Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand;
  • Large Indian civets (Viverra zibetha) in Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam;
  • Malay civets (Viverra tangalunga) in Malaysia;
  • Otter civets (Cynogale bennettii) in Malaysia, Thailand;
  • Owston’s palm civets (Chrotogale owstoni) in China, Laos, Vietnam.

With two exceptions, the above-mentioned sympatric species claim noticeable physical differences from darkly, densely, distinctly blotched, dotted, ringed, and striped large-spotted civets. Confusion ensues when the less cat-like, more dog-like Viverra (ferret-like) genus members -- Indian, large-spotted, and Malay civets -- get together.  


Edward Blyth: discernment in identification of Large-Spotted Civets

Woodburytype portrait published in 1890
Allan O. Hume, The Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds (1890), frontispiece, opp. p. 1
Allan O. Hume, The Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds (1890), frontispiece, opp. p. 1


Cautions against similarities between the four Viverra genus members appear in 1862 with the formal description of large-spotted civets to amateurs and professionals outside Asia. The examination of flattened skins from Prome, Burma -- in the present-day Pyay, Myanmar -- attests to the expertise of Edward Blyth (December 23, 1810 – December 27, 1873), as:

  • London-born pupil of Dr. Fennell in Wimbledon and of Dr. Keating in St. Paul’s Churchyard;
  • London-employed pharmacist, teacher, and writer;
  • London-employed section editor of “Mammalia, Birds, and Reptiles” for the English-language version, Animal Kingdom, of Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric Cuvier’s (August 23, 1769 – May 13, 1832) 1817-published Le Règne Animal, 1840;
  • South Asia-employed museum curator for the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1841 – 1862.


Large-Spotted Civet (Viverra megaspila):

illustration by Johannes Gerardus Keulemans (June 8, 1842 – March 29, 1912)
Dr. A. Günther, "Remarks on some Indian and, more especially, Bornean Mammals" (1876), Plate XXXVII, between pp. 424 - 425
Dr. A. Günther, "Remarks on some Indian and, more especially, Bornean Mammals" (1876), Plate XXXVII, between pp. 424 - 425


Large-spotted civet bodies display:

  • Black or black-brown super-marks blotching and spotting the sides and striping the shoulders;
  • Black dorsal stripe from shoulders to tail tip;
  • Gold-buff, grey-brown, silver-grey background;
  • Pale-centered quadrangular or round-spotted rows marking the posterior;
  • 2 black transverse neck stripes.

Their heads exhibit:

  • Alert, small, wide-spaced ears;
  • Dark-adapted, large, rounded eyes;
  • Moist-nosed, pointed muzzle.

Their elongated mandibles expose:

  • 6 canines, 2 incisors, 8 premolars, 4 molars equally distributed between the left and right upper jaw;
  • 6 canines, 2 incisors, 4 premolars, 8 molars evenly divided between the left and right lower jaw.

Their limbs have:

  • 5-digited paws;
  • Hairless soles;
  • 20 curved, unlobed claws.

Their black-tipped tails sequence 4 complete dark with 4 incomplete pale rings.


lower side of left fore paw of Large-Spotted Civet (Viverra megaspila), under synonym of Moschothera megaspila) ~

R.I. Pocock, The Fauna of British India: Mammalia Vol. I (1939)
Figure 87, p. 355
Figure 87, p. 355

lower side of left hind paw of Large-Spotted Civet (Viverra megaspila), under synonym of Moschothera megaspila ~

R.I. Pocock, The Fauna of British India: Mammalia Vol. I (1939)
Figure 87, p. 355
Figure 87, p. 355

Conclusion: Vulnerability of Large-Spotted Civets in a jumble of habitats in storied landscapes scarred by volatile politico-economics


Over 150 years after the ground-dwelling, opportunistic-feeding nocturnalist species’ taxonomic initiation, large-spotted civets are not much better known. Bio-geography and biology emerge as explanations for the persistent unfamiliarity. Mammalogists encounter within large-spotted civet homelands:

  • Jumbled habitats;
  • Non-traversable terrain;
  • Reticent cultures;
  • Volatile politico-economics.

Niches down-sized and fragmented by equally necessary agro-industrialism and traditionalism obstruct monitoring fleet, savvy large-spotted civets whose physical and sexual maturity only realizes:

  • Ear lengths of 1.58 – 1.97 inches (4 – 5 centimeters);
  • Head-and-body lengths of 29.92 – 35.43 inches (76 – 90 centimeters);
  • Hind-paw lengths of 7 – 8 inches (2.76 – 3.15 centimeters);
  • Tail lengths of 11.81 – 15.75 inches (30 – 40 centimeters);
  • Weights of 14.55 – 18.52 pounds (6.6 – 8.4 kilograms).

Enlightenment requires:

  • Environmental awareness;
  • Governmental protection;
  • Scientific research.


Large-Spotted Civet exotic landscape: Luang Prabang, inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, is strategically sited at confluence of at the confluence of Nam Khan and Mekong rivers in north central Laos.

Panorama of Luang Prabang, north Laos, seen from Phu Si Hill: Nam Khan River to left; further left is Luang Prabang's airstrip.
Panorama of Luang Prabang, north Laos, seen from Phu Si Hill: Nam Khan River to left; further left is Luang Prabang's airstrip.



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.


Large-Spotted Civet extreme landscape: Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park (Vietnamese: Vườn quốc gia Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng), formed as nature reserve on August 9, 1986, then as national park on December 12, 2001; designated in 2003 as UNESCO World Heritage Site

The national park, a medley of karst and non-karst topography, includes the world's largest cave, Sơn Đoòng Cave (Vietnamese: hang Sơn Đoòng, "Mountain River cave").
Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng NP, Bố Trạch and Minh Hóa districts, central Quảng Bình Province, North Central Coast region, Vietnam
Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng NP, Bố Trạch and Minh Hóa districts, central Quảng Bình Province, North Central Coast region, Vietnam

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Large-Spotted Civet storied landscapes: Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious monument, built in northwestern Cambodia in 12th century by Suryavarman II, King of Khmer Empire from 1113 AD to 1145-1150 AD ~

Angkor Wat's dense vegetation in proximity to accessible water sources is a favored landscape for Large-Spotted Civets.
Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

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Jungle travelers may never know that they are being quietly watched by "invisible" jungle dwellers, such as Large-Spotted Civets.
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A Guide to the Mammals of China is the most comprehensive guide to all 556 species of mammals, including Large-Spotted Civet (V. megaspila), found in China.
Viverra megaspila in books

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DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 01/03/2022, DerdriuMarriner
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