Wondernose: What animal is half cat and half weasel?

by Rebecca Martin | Sep 1, 2023 | 0 comments

Now, Wondernose, you must understand I’m not saying our mystery animal actually is part cat and part weasel. I am only describing what it looks like. Another way of describing it would be to say that it resembles a cat which has been stretched. Its gray spotted fur certainly resembles a cat’s, but it is long and thin like a weasel. Unlike the weasel, though, it has a bushy tail.

Oh, and another thing about that tail—it’s prehensile. That means the animal can wrap it. At least the babies can. Those who have studied these animals are doubtful that an adult can support its full weight by the tail. Still, the strong, agile tail comes in handy as a brake or prop while climbing up and down trees.

Since there are at least fifteen species of this animal, we can’t give an exact weight and size. Generally speaking, though, they’re from 2½ to 4 feet (75-120 cm) long and weigh anywhere from 5-24 pounds (2-11 kg). Tails are usually long—up to 1½ feet (45 cm)—and there are often rings on the tail.

Our animal is a omnivore. I guess you know what that means, Wondernose? It eats other animals such as frogs, small rodents, insects, and small reptiles. It also rounds out its diet by eating fruits and plants. Found mostly in southern Asia and Africa, this animal is not appreciated by fruit farmers or chicken farmers. It also likes to eat eggs!

In at least one way, our mystery animal resembles the skunk. Its main means of defense is to spray enemies with a foul-smelling liquid. On the whole, these are not aggressive animals, and some people have tamed them for pets.
We could even say our mystery animal is like a raccoon—not only because of its ringed tail, but also because of the dark “mask” across the eyes of some species. So, Wondernose, I’ve compared our animal to cats, weasels, skunks, and raccoons—and you still don’t know what it is.

It’s called the civet. In some areas people call it the civet cat. One of the most fascinating species of civet is the binturong, or bear-cat, which lives in southeast Asian countries like Malaysia and Vietnam. What long, bushy black fur this animal has! Some white hairs are also scattered through the black, making the fur look silvery. Its tail is one of the bushiest of all animals, and from behind its ears sprout two extra long tufts of hair that give it a scraggly appearance, like someone badly in need of a haircut. Binturongs especially like bananas. They eat them by squeezing out the fruit, then throwing away the peel.

Another interesting civet is the fossa of Madagascar—the largest carnivore to be found on this island. It’s only a little over 2 feet (60 cm) long, so now you know that Madagascar has no truly large carnivores.

The fossa has some more cat-like features. It can contract the pupils of its eyes until they almost disappear, like little slits. And then there are the claws. I guess you know, Wondernose, that cats can retract their claws. So can fossas.

Now I’m going to test your cat knowledge still more. Do cats walk on their toes, or on the soles of their feet? Hmmm. You don’t know. Well, the answer is that cats walk on their toes. Watch your cat the next time it walks by. By contrast, bears walk on their soles (like we do). In this respect, the fossa resembles the bear more than the cat.

Then there’s the linsang, another civet of southeast Asia. This one is the longest and thinnest of them all! Nearly half of its 2½-foot (75-cm) length is tail.

Wondernose, consider this: the linsang weighs only 1½ pounds (0.68 kg). No wonder it’s thin!

The linsang is a great stalker. As it slithers through the grass with its body slung low between short legs, and its long neck outstretched, the linsang looks very much like a snake.

There is an African civet and an Indian civet. There is also a palm civet and an otter civet. We’ve covered quite a variety of them; the features they all have in common are their long bodies, long tails, and sharp muzzles.

Binturong. Photo © Robert Downer|Dreamstime.com.

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