Masked Palm Civets (Paguma larvata): Non-Ringtails of North India, Southeast Asia, South China

by DerdriuMarriner

Gem-faced masked civets have brown-grey bodies and tails. White-lined, white-patched black masks make their heads look raccoon-like. Their musky pelts and sprays recall skunks.

Masks communicate infamy as part of the disguises donned by perpetrators of home-invasions or hold-ups. They contribute to the alluring excitement of dressing up as lone-ranging John Reid, foxy Don Diego de la Vega, or phantomesque Christopher Walker for Halloween parades or masquerade balls.
• Either way, they function to alter or hide the triangle of identification formed by the eyes, mouth, and nose.

But what creates temporary impressions in human mask-wearers has permanent roles to fill among animals whose masks are lifelong and unremovable.
• Wildlife-lovers in Central and North America most likely label raccoons Mother Nature’s foremost bearers of facial masks.
• But their East, South and Southeast Asian counterparts more likely pick native gem-faced masked palm civets.

Naturalist/self-taught illustrator Lieut-Col. Charles Hamilton Smith (December 26, 1776–September 21, 1859) illustrated and described Masked Palm Civet according to Coenraad Jacob Temminck's (1778 - 1858) designation, Masked Glutton (Gulo larvatus):

portrait by Scottish painter and engraver William Home Lizars (1788 - March 30, 1859)
C.H. Smith, The Natural History of the Human Species, frontispiece
C.H. Smith, The Natural History of the Human Species, frontispiece

 

The mask of the gem-faced masked palm civet accedes to two seemingly contradictory intents. It acts as an advertisement and as camouflage. For example, scientists associate the startling pattern of the gem-faced masked palm civet’s face with visual cautions by musky scent glands of:

  • Body-odor;
  • Information-sharing;
  • Stinkbomb-releasing;
  • Territory-marking.

They also attribute to a striking facial design vision-communicated warnings to predatory mammals, raptors, and reptiles of the bearer’s prowess at:

  • Locating hiding places;
  • Pursuing escape routes;
  • Scaling arboreal heights.

And yet at the same time, the mask blends seamlessly as super-clever camouflage in the gem-faced masked palm civet’s homeland. The black-and-white facial markings indeed copy the play of dark and light across surface-level vegetation and over woody bark.

 

Masked Palm Civet (Paguma larvata), under common and scientific synonyms of the Masked Glutton (Gulo larvatus):

June 1825 illustration by Charles Hamilton Smith (December 26, 1776 – September 21, 1859); engraving by T. Bradley
Edward Griffith, The Animal Kingdom (1827), opp. p. 281
Edward Griffith, The Animal Kingdom (1827), opp. p. 281

 

The physique of the gem-faced masked palm civet blackens :

  • The bandit-like facial mask carpeting cheekbones, forehead, and nape backward to the shoulder blades;
  • The 4 five-clawed, five-digited paws;
  • The 4 lower limbs;
  • The tail-tip, upward as much as ¼ - ½ tail-baseward.

It grizzles brown, buff, grey, orange, and yellow-red on:

  • The moist nose;
  • The short-haired, spotless, stripe-less pelage.

It whitens:

  • The chin;
  • The diamond- or straight-line dividing face and nape;
  • The lips;
  • The marks around big, dark-adapted, rounded eyes whose pupils are vertical and whose camera-trapped night-shine is green;
  • The patches around alert, rounded, wide-spaced ears;
  • Sideburns;
  • The supersensory vibrissae (whiskers) flanking the pointed muzzle;
  • The throat;
  • 12 incisors, 4 canines, 14 premolars, 8 molars.

 

Masked Palm Civet (Paguma larvata), under synonym of Paradoxurus larvatus:

illustration by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (February 8, 1807 – January 27, 1894)
John Edward Gray, Illustrations of Indian Zoology, Vol. II (1833-1834), Plate 11
John Edward Gray, Illustrations of Indian Zoology, Vol. II (1833-1834), Plate 11

 

Camouflage-amenable physiques indeed allow gem-faced masked palm civets to pursue survivalist behaviors. Gem-faced masked palm civets in fact appreciate comfortable niches within roomy habitats. So they are never alone in claiming:

  • 0.77 square-mile (2 square-kilometer) nightly hunting grounds;
  • 1-day-only, single-occupant rests -- not nests -- in tree hollows or on foliage-shrouded branches and forks within the uppermost 10% of a deciduous or evergreen tree’s canopy.

They therefore articulate arboreal, nocturnal, nomadic, omnivorous, solitary life cycles and natural histories as rugged recluses within extended networks of loose communities created, perpetuated, and refreshed through:

  • Bi-annual mating mixers;
  • Established escape routes;
  • Information-sharing, predator-repelling, prey-disarming, territory-marking scent releases;
  • Set hiding places.

They generally elude predatory hawks, jaguars, leopards, snakes, and tigers.

 

the acrobatics of nourishment: Masked Palm Civet feeding on cotton tree (Bombax malabaricum)

Hong Kong, offshore from Guangdong Province, southeastern China
Hong Kong, offshore from Guangdong Province, southeastern China

 

Behavior and biology additionally conjoin in the super-savvy breeding and feeding practices of gem-faced masked palm civets. Gem-faced masked palm civets favor dietary and mating habits which ensure environmental roles and population sustainability. They find themselves listed among the world’s carnivores (“flesh-eaters”). But they actually go in for the opportunistic eating habits of non-picky omnivores (“everything-eaters”) by consuming:

  • Arthropods (especially bark beetles and other tree insect pests);
  • Eggs;
  • Mollusks;
  • Small birds, amphibians, mammals, and reptiles.

They also include enthusiastic consumption of such wild-world produce as:

  • Fruits (bananas, figs, mangos);
  • Juices;
  • Vegetation (especially roots).

The palm part of their name particularly memorializes their passion for fermented and fresh palm pulp. But it overlooks their obligate pest-controlling, seed-dispersing environmentalism.

 

Masked Palm Civet young'un in new homeland, Japan ~

Masked Palm Civets have been introduced on Japanese islands of Honshu and Shikoku.
Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, east central Honshu
Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, east central Honshu

 

Population sustainability benefits from bi-annual breeding seasons. The first of two yearly mating periods commences in early spring. The second emerges in the late autumn. Both end up with litters of 1 – 4 furry offspring. Newborn development entails:

  • Opening eyes 9 days after birth;
  • Realizing adult shapes and sizes 3 months after delivery;
  • Surviving about 10 years in the wild and 20 years in captivity or domestication on individual ranges averaging 39.38 square miles (102 square kilometers).  

Physical and sexual maturity showcases:

  • Ear lengths of 1.58 – 2.36 inches (4 – 6 centimeters);
  • Head-and-body lengths of 19.69 – 29.92 inches (50 – 76 centimeters);
  • Tail lengths of 19.69 – 25.20 inches (50 – 64 centimeters);
  • Weights of 7.93 – 11.01 pounds (3.6 – 5 kilograms).  

 

 

Many subspecies verify sustainability:

  • Paguma larvata larvata (Charles Hamilton-Smith [1776 – 1859], 1827), chichingensis (Wang, 1981), hainana (Oldfield Thomas [1858 – 1929], 1909), lanigera (Brian Hodgson [1800 – 1894], 1836) -- China;
  • grayi (Edward Bennett [1797 – 1836], 1835) -- China, Nepal, India;
  • intrudens (Robert Wroughton [1849 – 1921], 1910) -- Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam;
  • janetta (Thomas, 1928), nigriceps (Reginald Pocock [1863 – 1947], 1939) -- Myanmar;
  • jourdanii -- Malaysia, leucostymax (Gray, 1837), ogilbyi (Louis Fraser [1810 – 1866], 1846) -- Indonesia;
  • neglecta (Pocock, 1934) -- Bhutan, India, Myanmar;
  • robusta (Gerrit Miller Jr. [1869 – 1956], 1906) -- Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand;
  • taivana (Robert Swinhoe [1836 – 1877], 1862) -- Taiwan;
  • tytleri (Robert Tytler [1818 – 1872], 1864), wroughtoni (Ernst Schwarz [1889 – 1962], 1913) -- India.

 

Paguma larvata from Myanmar

Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Genova, Genoa, northwestern Italy
Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Genova, Genoa, northwestern Italy

Conclusion: With a gem of a masked face for camouflage in the wild and an endearingly loyal disposition as pets, Masked Palm Civets thrive despite 21st century challenges

 

Bio-geography and demographics encourage conservationists to rank gem-faced masked palm civets among faunal populations of least concern regarding environmental stress. But gem-faced masked palm civets experience negative side-effects from:

  • Expanded urban and shrunken wildland interfaces;

  • Increased over-hunting of flesh, fragrances, and furs;

  • Intensified agro-industrialism.

They favor primary-growth sylvan life cycles and natural histories near clean waters at altitudes up to 8,202.10 feet (2,500 meters) in;

  • Deciduous forests;

  • Evergreen forests;

  • Peat swamp forests.

They survive such degraded, disturbed, fragmented, secondary-growth habitats as:

  • Farmland and forest mosaics;

  • Logged forests near palm plantations;

  • Village and woodland mosaics.

As loyal pets and obligate environmentalists affectionately called “veiled weasels” (Paguma larvata), they warrant:

  • Governmental protection;

  • Scientific research;

  • Wildlife-loving activism.

 

Masked Palm Civet's favored ecosystems: Ratargul Swamp Forest, Bangladesh's only swamp forest and one of world's few freshwater swamps

Gowainghat, Sylhet District, northeastern Bangladesh
Gowainghat, Sylhet District, northeastern Bangladesh

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.

 

Masked Palm Civet's stunning native ecosystems: Known locally as Fairy Meadows, named by German climbers (Märchenwiese, ″fairy tale meadows″), a grassland favored as April - September campsite for trekkers seeking to summit nearby Nanga Parbat ~

In 1995 Fairy Meadows was declared a national park by Pakistan.
grassland with a view: Nanga Parbat, at 26,660 ft (8,126 m), world's 9th highest mountain: Gilgit-Baltistan Region, NE Pakistan
grassland with a view: Nanga Parbat, at 26,660 ft (8,126 m), world's 9th highest mountain: Gilgit-Baltistan Region, NE Pakistan

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Masked Palm Civet's gem-like native landscapes: Longsheng Rice Terraces, terraced fields mostly built about 6.5 centuries ago

Longsheng County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (GZAR), South Central China
Longsheng County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (GZAR), South Central China
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

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Updated: 08/20/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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