Temporal range: Pliocene–Recent
|Common genet Genetta genetta|
Genets (pronounced /ˈdʒɛnɪts/ or /dʒəˈnɛts/) are Old World mammals from the order Carnivora, suborder Feliformia, family Viverridae, and subfamily Viverrinae. They are related to civets, linsangs, fossa, and mongooses. The common genet is the only viverrid present in Europe. Almost all species are contained within the genus Genetta, although the aquatic genet is sometimes housed in its own genus Osbornictis. Fossils of the genus have been found to date from the Pliocene.
Nomenclature and etymology
The etymological origin is uncertain; it might be from the Greek prefix gen meaning bear and the New Latin suffix etta meaning "small,", or a derivation of the Arab name Djarnet, or Arabic jarnait.
Other vernacular names include European genet; small-spotted genet; gineta, jineta or gato almizclero (musk cat) (Spanish); geneta comuna or gat mesquer (musk cat) (Catalan); xeneta or algaria (Galician); genette européenne (French; common genet = genette commune), Ginsterkatze (German; common genet = Kleinfleck-Ginsterkatze); gineta or gineta-europeia (Portuguese); vanlig genett (Swedish); and muskeljaatkat in Afrikaans.
Genets are feliforms, and are related to cats, but more closely related to mongooses. Most of them have spotted coats, long, banded tails, small heads, and large ears. (The common genet is the most variable morphologically of all genets and is often misidentified.) They are able to move through any opening that their head can fit through. Like civets, genets have strong musk glands, located by the anus, which are used for territorial, sexual and social purposes.
Genets possess extremely long tails, typically around one to one and a half times the length of their bodies. Their bodies are typically 16.9 to 22.9 inches long, while their tails are approximately 15.4-20.9 inches long. These longs tails provide a highly effective counterweight that enables them to easily maintain balance as they leap from tree limb to tree limb. However, the length of genets' tails does not necessarily correspond to them inhabiting a more woody habitat. They are not strictly terrestrial, and spend much of their time in trees. Genets have semi-retractable claws, which they use for climbing and holding prey, but not for fighting.
The color of the fur is variable, generally grayish or yellowish, with brown or black spots on the sides, sometimes arranged in rows. The tail may be black with white rings, and completely black genets are fairly common.
Genets can move their eyes within their sockets, but eye mobility is limited; head movement is required. Their ears can move via the pinna in order to locate sounds. The nose has a dual function, both olfactory and tactile perception. Smelling is aided by the rhinarium, utilized in many other mammals. Adult genets typically weigh around 2.2 to 6.6 pounds, with an average weight of 4.4 pounds.
Genets are highly agile creatures, with quick reflexes and exceptional climbing skills, and are the only viverrids that are able to stand bipedally. They are able to walk, trot, run, climb up and down trees, and jump.
Males have been found to be more active than females at night because of their greater size, which indicates that males have greater energy requirements to satisfy their physiological needs. Females typically weigh less, and they have been found to be less active overall. Females' home ranges are also smaller than males'. The mean annual home range of the common genet is 113 hectares (279 acres) for males and 72 hectares (178 acres) for females. While males have larger home ranges in all seasons, the differences between males' and females' territories are most significant during the winter.
Genets are solitary, but some pairs and family groups are occasionally seen. As adults they are crepuscular, with their highest levels of activity following sunset and just prior to sunrise; juveniles may be active during the day.
Five communication calls have been reported. The hiccup call is used by males during the mating period and by females to call the litter. Kits purr during their first week of life and, during their dependent weeks, moan or mew. Kits also growl after the complete development of predatory behavior and during aggressive interactions. Finally, genets utter a "click" as a threat.
Threatening behavior consists of erection of the dark central dorsal band of hair, an arched-back stance, opening the mouth, and baring the teeth.
Both male and female genets exhibit scent marking.
Common genets defecate in latrines situated in elevated points, such as tree branches, rocks, raptor nests, or in human constructions, such as roofs and walls. Biologist Javier Calzada Samperio remarks that common genet droppings "are longer than expected for this small animal." This might be explained by Bartels's observation that the similar Asian palm civet relieves itself as it walks.
In 2014, a camera trap in the Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park captured a genet riding on the back of two buffalo and a rhinoceros. This was a the first time a mammal was spotted riding another mammal species, besides humans using pack animals.
Distribution and habitat
All live exclusively in Africa except for the widespread common genet (Genetta genetta), which inhabits diverse habitats and can be found in Northwest Africa and Southwestern Europe (in the Mediterranean zone, from the Iberian Peninsula to France), parts of the Middle East, and the Balearic Islands. Habitat tolerance varies widely between species as different species prefer woodlands, savannas, and forests. They prefer to live in areas with dense vegetation, such as bushes, thickets, and evergreen oak forests.
In Europe, genets thrive in oak and pine forests, but also live in olive groves, riparian zones, ash groves, rocky areas, and shrublands. The common genet is rare in open areas, marshes, and cereal croplands. Despite their abundance along watercourses, presence of water is not essential. Common genets prefer to live at low altitudes, especially in northern areas. Genets also prefer areas with high temperatures and low rainfall. Genets tolerate close proximity to humans.
In Africa, Genetta genetta occurs in North Africa, Arabia, and throughout the Savannah zone of Africa, south of the Sahara. In South Africa, it is common in the west-central part of KwaZulu-Natal, in Cape Province, and in QwaQwa National Park in the Free State province. It is common in Morocco, but rare in Libya, Egypt, and Zambia.
It has been found that females prefer thickets, while males use trees more than females. Because of their solitary natures, genets each tend to have their own territories; however, the male and female home ranges may overlap.
The genet was first brought to the Mediterranean region as a domestic animal approximately 1000 to 1500 years ago from Algeria, and from there, spread throughout southwestern Europe. The common genet is related to the Magrebian species of genets, which are native to western North Africa.
Adrienne Kruzer, a Registered Veterinary Technician, writes, "There is some suspicion that small populations of genets in Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland are escaped pets as these critters can fit through anything their head can fit in."
Genets are solitary predators and they feed on a wide spectrum of plants and animals, as they mostly feed opportunistically. However, they strongly prefer animal matter. Overall, they are generally considered omnivorous. However, they feed often on small mammals, such as rodents, shrews, and bats. Small rodents are captured by the back and killed with a bite at the head, then eaten starting with the head. They also eat birds, bird eggs, centipedes, millipedes, scorpions, and various fruits, including figs and olives. In some areas, they feed on poultry from farms.
Because genets are solitary, they mainly interact during reproduction. Their home ranges are slightly larger during the spring because they are more active, not only nocturnally, but in seeking a mate. Because of their increased activity, they require more energy and are more active to acquire the necessary sustenance. The female becomes sexually mature at two years. Once copulation has occurred, the gestation period lasts for ten to eleven weeks. Genets produce two to four young, usually twice per year. Most young are born when there is a higher abundance of insects for the young to eat. However, genets are diestrous as there are two significant peaks in the number of births during the year: one during April and May and one during August, September, and October.
At birth, infant genets weigh approximately 2.74 ounces. Infants are able to crawl by the time they are one to two days old. Within the time span of a week, they are able to support their body by both their forelimbs and hindlegs for brief periods of time. Their coordination greatly increases within the first two weeks. Their eyes and ears remain closed for the first ten days, and they receive their first solid food at six weeks old, though they are not yet weaned. They are weaned after approximately eight weeks. Because male and female genets remain separate at all times except for mating, the young are reared by the mother.
Genets are reported (perhaps with anecdotal evidence) to be "unusually long-lived in captivity, often reaching 18 or even 20 years of age." Common genets have been known to live 13 years in captivity. A male genet lived for 22.7 years in captivity.
Genets can suffer from infestation of parasitic helminths, as well as ticks, fleas (Hippobosca), and lice. Common genets also host the phthirapteran Eutrichophilus genettae and Lorisicola (Paradoxuroecus) genettae.
There are no approved vaccines for genets, but annual check-ups are still recommended by veterinarians who treat exotic pets. Kruzer writes, "Some genet owners and their vets opt to vaccinate with a rabies and distemper vaccine, but the efficacy and safety of this practice is still up for debate." Jennifer Orchard, a writer of articles on adopting exotic pets, says,
Genets should not be vaccinated. Veterinarians unfamiliar with exotic pets often try to talk owners into having their genets vaccinated with a feline vaccine, but a genet is not a cat! There is no vaccine approved specifically for genets, and unsuitable vaccines can be just as dangerous as the diseases they are supposed to prevent. Far too many exotic animals have died as the result of improper vaccinations. Since your genet will be living indoors anyway, its exposure to other animals and possible viruses will be extremely limited.
Several species, including the common genet and the large spotted genet, are increasingly kept as pets worldwide. Their curious and playful nature is akin to that of a kitten or a domestic ferret. They can eat standard commercial cat food or ferret food, and they can be trained to use a litter box like a cat. The genet arches its back and grooms itself in much the same way as a cat.
Genets are inquisitive but cautious animals and are easily startled. They can be held and petted, but for the most part do not like to be restrained. They are very clean pets, generally consistent in their use of litter boxes.
Genets can be socialized to exist peacefully with other pets, such as cats and dogs, but they will attack small animal pets. Kruzer, the veterinary technician, amplifies on this: "Genets are not cuddly pets. They are nocturnal and don't do well in groups of genets but usually will get along with dogs and cats if they have grown up with them. Smaller pets, like hamsters, will quickly become food to a genet."
Owners and experts strongly warn against giving a pet genet away. Jennifer Orchard, a writer of articles on adopting exotic pets, says, "Once bonded, genets must remain with their original owner. Much like flying squirrels, their attachment to their owner is very deep and they simply cannot adjust to new people. Genets that are given away frequently become neurotic or even revert to a state of complete wildness." Ashley Duncan, another expert on exotics, writes, "Genets are a ONE family pet, there is no such thing as rehoming a pet genet. They will not remain tame with a new family and a new environment. Change in environment and caretakers is very stressful on genets and can also cause self mutilation, cage pacing and behavior changes."
Status and threats
The common genet is not in danger of becoming extinct, and is listed on the IUCN Red List as of the "least concern". They are plentiful throughout their home range in Africa and Europe. Some minor threats include: hunting for food and fur, predator trapping for hunting management, and habitat destruction and fragmentation due to urbanization and tourism. However, none of these threats are thought to be causes for major concern. Although the common genet is not endangered, it can act as an indicator of a forest's health.
The number of species in the genus is controversial; as few as 3 and as many as 30 subspecies have been described.
- Genetta abyssinica - Abyssinian genet
- Genetta angolensis - Angolan genet
- Genetta bourloni - Bourlon's genet
- Genetta cristata - Crested genet (considered by some authorities to be a subspecies of the servaline genet)
- Genetta genetta - Common genet, European genet, or small-spotted genet
- Genetta johnstoni - Johnston's genet
- Genetta maculata - Panther genet
- Genetta pardina - Pardine genet
- Genetta piscivora - Aquatic genet (sometimes placed in own genus Osbornictis)
- Genetta poensis - King genet
- Genetta servalina - Servaline genet
- Genetta thierryi - Thierry's genet or Haussa genet
- Genetta tigrina - Large spotted genet or blotched genet/Cape genet
- Genetta victoriae - Giant genet
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