Small Carnivores


There are over 150 small carnivores species within the remit of the IUCN Small Carnivore Specialist Group. However, the total number of species is not fully resolved and the taxonomy of small carnivores undergoes regular revisions, as discoveries are made – some new species are described, while others are subsumed. These changes are mostly the product of recent genetic comparisons between populations, and these new molecular techniques have revealed underlying similarities or differences – some pairs of species long assumed to be different, based mainly on appearance, have turned out to be the same, while others that were thought to be the same, are actually one or more species.

Each common name below is linked to a species account on Wikipedia that provides biological and ecological information about the species. The two-letter codes designate the current conservation status of each species (CR: Critically Endangered; EN: Endangered; VU: Vulnerable; NT: Near Threatened; LC: Least Concern; NE: Not Evaluated), as published on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and these codes are linked to the species’ IUCN conservation assessment account.

Family: Mustelidae

Subfamily: Guloninae
Yellow-throated marten
Subfamily: Helictidinae
Ferret- badger
Subfamily: Ictonychinae
Subfamily: Melinae
European Badger
Subfamily: Mellivorinae
Honey Badger
Subfamily: Mustelinae
Least weasel
Subfamily: Taxidiinae
American Badger

The Mustelidae is the largest family of the Carnivora that arose in Eurasia at least 24 million years ago. Subdivision within this large family is complicated and undergoes regular revision, as new molecular and fossil discoveries are made, and the total number of species is not fully resolved:

From their Eurasian origins, mustelids underwent repeated colonisations into the Americas and Africa, and now occur globally, with species on every continent except Antarctica and Australasia (although Least Weasels and Stoats were introduced to New Zealand).

Mustelids have evolved to adopt a wide variety of lifestyles, from aquatic and social to semiarboreal. In common with the Mephitidae (skunks and stink badgers), most mustelids have anal glands that produce strongly smelling secretions, which some species are able to spray defensively. Delayed implantation is prevalent in many mustelids, in which development of the embryo in the womb is temporarily postponed, in some cases for as long as 11 months, which allows both mating and births to occur during optimal spring-summer periods, when finding mates and raising young is most benign.

Family: Procyonidae


The Procyonidae arose approximately 27–30 million years ago. The earliest procyonids evolved in Europe, from where they colonised other continents; the family died out in Eurasia and today occurs only in North and South America. Divisions within the family, and the number of species, remain controversial:

Most procyonids have omnivorous diets. They are largely nocturnal, and vary between being solitary to highly social, and from being terrestrial to arboreal.

Family: Mephitidae

Subfamily: Mephitinae
Striped skunk
Subfamily: Myadinae
Stink badger

Skunks and stink-badgers were formerly classified in the Mustelidae, but are now recognised in their own family. Many skunk species are poorly defined, and genetic analysis is likely to identify more hidden species or subsume species.

True skunks are restricted to North and South America, and stink-badgers are endemic to insular Southeast Asia. All members of the family have enlarged muscular anal scent glands that spray potent fluid in self-defence, and all have associated black-and white aposematic coloration. Mephitids are omnivorous and are largely solitary, with little evidence of territoriality, although some species can have extensively overlapping ranges.

Family: Ailuridae

Red Panda

The Red Panda was formerly grouped with the Giant Panda, due mainly to a similar diet of bamboo and associated adaptations; however, the Giant Panda is now unequivocally a bear, and the Red Panda is the only member of a unique family, with an uncertain phylogenetic position within the Caniformia. Red Pandas are restricted to forests of southeast China and bordering countries. Their diet is almost exclusively bamboo, and they are cathemeral and solitary.

Family: Herpestidae

Subfamily: Herpestinae
Yellow mongoose
Subfamily: Mungotinae

Mongooses were formerly classified within the Viverridae, but are now recognised in their own family, the Herpestidae. Within the Feliformia, the mongoose family is most closely related to the Eupleridae.

The Herpestidae is subdivided into two large subfamilies: Herpestinae (23 solitary species) and Mungotinae (11 social species). This major division is thought to reflect a divergence early in mongoose evolution, in which the opening up of forested habitats favoured sociality in an ancestral mongoose that ultimately gave rise to the modern social species.

  • The number of mongoose species within the Galerella and Bdeogale genera is still uncertain.
  • Recent genetic analyses have shown that the nine Asian mongooses that were originally included in the genus Herpestes should now be placed in the genus Urva.
  • The Small Indian Mongoose and Javan Mongoose were often considered as one species, but recent genetic studies have clearly shown that they are two species.

Mongooses occur in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, with one species, the Egyptian Mongoose, present in Portugal and Spain. They are primarily carnivorous and eat mainly small vertebrates and invertebrates, although fruit and vegetable matter is eaten to a limited degree by some species.

Family: Eupleridae

Subfamily: Euplerinae
Subfamily: Galidiinae

Members of the Eupleridae arose from a single mongoose-like ancestor that colonized Madagascar from mainland Africa an estimated 16.5–24 million years ago.

  • There is now strong evidence that the Western Falanouc (Eupleres major) is the same species as the Falanouc.
  • Recent genetic analyses have led to the reclassification of two Galidictis species as a single species, the Broad-striped Vontsira.
  • Durrell’s Vontsira (Salanoia durrelli) is considered the same species as the Brown-tailed Vontsira.

Euplerids eat mostly animal prey, and are thought to be chiefly solitary.

Family: Viverridae

Subfamily: Genettinae
Subfamily: Hemigalinae
Banded Civet
Subfamily: Paradoxurinae
Subfamily: Viverrinae
Malay Civet

The Viverridae is an ancient lineage of the Feliformia thought to have arisen at least 34 million years ago in Eurasia, followed by later colonisation of Africa. The number of species is not fully resolved:

  • The classification of genets is controversial, with as many as 15 species proposed in the genus Genetta (14 are recognised here).
  • Recent genetic analyses suggest that the Common Palm Civet comprises three species.
  • The Malabar Civet is possibly the same species as the Large-spotted Civet.

Viverrids are restricted to Africa and Asia; the Common Genet also occurs in Europe (possibly as a result of human introduction). They are largely solitary and nocturnal. Many species are semi-arboreal to highly arboreal and have protractile claws, as in felids. Viverrids are primarily carnivorous, with a diet dominated by small vertebrates and invertebrates or, as in the Paradoxurinae, largely frugivorous.

Family: Prionodontidae


The Asian linsangs were originally classified among the Viverridae and were thought to be closely related to African oyans (formerly also called linsangs), which are morphologically and ecologically very similar. In fact, the Asian linsangs are a sister group to the Felidae (cats), with a shared common ancestor around 42 million years ago. Linsangs are restricted to Southeast Asia, where they inhabit evergreen forests. They are solitary, highly arboreal, and are hypercarnivorous nocturnal hunters of small prey.

Family: Nandiniidae

African Palm Civet

The African Palm Civet was formerly classified in the Viverridae, as an African member of the Asian palm civet family Paradoxurinae, giving rise to its erroneous common name. Molecular data confirm that it represents an ancient sister species to all other feliform carnivores, sharing a common ancestor 36–54 million years ago. Endemic to equatorial Africa, the African Palm Civet inhabits forest and woodland savannahs. It is mainly frugivorous, and also takes vertebrate and invertebrate prey. It is arboreal, nocturnal and mainly solitary, with defended territories.