What is a Palm Civet?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A palm civet is a type of nocturnal civet which can be found in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands; another species, also commonly called a palm civet, lives in Africa. Asian palm civets live primarily arboreal lives in the trees of the Asian jungle. The creatures look unusually like cats, and they are sometimes compared to North American raccoons as well. The cries of the palm civet can be quite disturbing, especially when the animals nest in roofing, which is common in many villages, and some people consider the animals a nuisance.

Coffee beans that have passed through a palm civet's digestive system are harvested for selling and brewing.
Coffee beans that have passed through a palm civet's digestive system are harvested for selling and brewing.

The common name refers to their liking for palm nectar or syrup. Some communities in Asia ferment this nectar to make a drink known as toddy, and they refer to the palm civet as the “toddy cat.” In Indonesia, the palm civet is known as a musang. In addition to nectar, the palm civet also eats a variety of tropical fruits, along with small mammals and insects. The omnivorous creatures can also be enterprising scavengers in areas with a larger human community, just like their raccoon counterparts in North America.

A palm civet is a type of nocturnal civet which can be found in southeast Asia.
A palm civet is a type of nocturnal civet which can be found in southeast Asia.

The animals have spotted fur, long tails, and pointy ears and noses. They also have very distinctive anal scent glands which have developed to look like testicles. Both genders bear these scent glands, which led to initial confusion among scientists. Although the confusion has resolved, the scientific name Paradoxorus hermaphroditus stuck. The palm civet can spray a rather noxious vapor from its anal scent glands; the odor is sometimes compared to skunk.

Not much is known about the breeding habits of palm civets. It is believed that the females can bear multiple litters of up to four cubs in one year, but beyond this, other data about reproduction is unavailable. The natural behavior of the animals is also not widely understood, although the animals do appear to be suffering from habitat depletion. However, they also appear to be able to adapt to the environment found in small villages and towns.

One habit of the palm civet is particularly interesting to humans. The animals appear to be rather fond of coffee cherries along with the assortment of other foods that they eat. Since coffee cherries are indigestible, it is possible to collect coffee which has gone through the digestive tract of a palm civet. This coffee is known as kopi luwak, and it is highly prized for its extremely unique flavor, which is allegedly rather gamy.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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