Posts Tagged ‘banded linsang’

banded linsang curtis

Banded linsangs are creatures that have commonly been referred to as civets, but both linsang species from Asia are actually a sister group with felids. They are the closest thing to a cat that isn’t a cat.

This depiction was made by John Curtis, who never saw one alive. The only one he ever saw a specimen collected on the Malay Peninsula by Major-General William Farquhar.

The real animal is actually quite a bit more stunning.

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The banded linsang is more closely related to cats than civets or genets.

With the order Carnivora, there are two basic suborders,  Feliformia and Caniformia.

Caniformia has all the dogs, bears, raccoons, weasels, skunks, the red panda, and all the animals we call the pinnipeds (“earless” seals, sea lions and fur seals, and the walrus).

All the rest are Feliformia, and yes, hyenas are feliforms.

Cats and hyenas are the best known feliformis because they are the only feliforms that are of any size.

All the rest are relatively small, relatively obscure animals that very often nocturnal– and are very often arboreal.

With the exception of the common genet (Genetta genetta) none of these animals is found in Europe.  The common genet was introduced to Spain, Portugal and Southern France by the Moors in the twelfth century– or so the story goes.

That means that these animals are found in Asia and Africa, and many animals from those two continents have only recently been described to science.

So figuring out where all these primitive feliforms fit has been a bit of challenge.

The primitive feliforms traditionally were divided into two families: Viverridae, which included the civets, genets, the binturong, the linsangs, and the Malagasy civet and the fossa, and the Herpestidae, which included all the mongooses and meerkats, including the mongooses that were found on Madagascar.

Well, it’s turned out that trying to place all these primitive feliforms into these two families is a fool’s errand. DNA studies revealed that civets were a parphyletic family. The African palm civet (Nandinia binotata) was found to be very genetically distinct from the other civets– so much so that it was given its own family called Nandiniidae. The Malagasy civet and the fossa were found to be much more closely related to the Malgasy mongooses, and these mongooses were more closely related to the Malagasy civet and fossa than they were to mongooses on mainland Africa or Asia.

Perhaps the most interesting discovery in recent years was the discovery that the Asiatic and African linsangs, though closely resembling each other, were not closely related at all. There are two species of linsang in Africa and two in Asia. The African linsang is found in Central Africa from Cameroon to Gabon to the Democratic Republic of  the Congo. Leight’s linsang, also called the West African linsang, is found in Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. The two Asiatic species are the banded and spotted species. The banded linsang is found n Western Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo, Western Java, and a narrow strip of territory in Thailand.  The spotted species is found from Nepal to south-central china and south into Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It is found in northern Thailand, Myanmar, and extreme northeastern India.

These animals have been thought of as civets, although they are more cat-like than other civets. They also have been thought of as being closely related to each other, which is why the African ones are called linsangs, a Javanese loanword.

An analysis of nuclear and mtDNA in the four species revealed something rather remarkable.

The two African species actually were civets that were very closely related to the civets.

The two Asiatic species, however, were something quite remarkable.

They were found to be very close relatives of the felids– and are more closely related to cats than they are to other primitive feliforms.

The cat-like features of the Asiatic linsangs were the result of them sharing a common ancestor with the modern cats. The same features in the African species appeared via convergent evolution.

The African linsangs have been given their own genus name (Poiana), and there is currently a move to call them by an indigenous African name to differentiate them from the Asiatic linsangs.  African linsangs are now being called “oyans.”

The Asiatic species of linsang have been given the new family of Prionodontidae.

The Asiatic linsangs likely resemble the ancestral cat, which evolved from primitive feliforms in Asia around 30 million years ago.

Cats are perhaps the most derived of all feliformia. They have many specialized adaptations for a hypercarnivorous diet, which are absent in most of the primitive feliforms. Many cats are built to bring down prey larger than themselves, and they are often the dominant predators in their ecosystems.

But even though cats are quite different from their primitive relatives, they once evolved from an ancestor similar to them.


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