What is This Animal? No, Seriously, What is It?

By Esther Inglis-Arkell on at

The animal captured on this camera trap is one of the more reclusive natives of southeast Asia. It may be the only animal that has confused people as to whether it’s a cat or a snake.

Actually, it’s a linsang. (Above is the banded linsang; the one below is the spotted linsang.) If you hunt around on the internet for stories about them, you’ll find entries about them stalking their prey by getting so low to the ground and moving so sinuously that they’re mistaken for snakes. There doesn’t seem to be a definitive source for that fact, but it wouldn’t be surprising.

Early scientists took at look at the linsang’s agility and cat-like features and figured it was a member of Felidae, one of the cats. As scientists got a better look, they considered its short legs and elongated body and put it in the family known as viverridae, a group of long, short-legged animals mostly comprised of civets.

Then came a study on the genetics of the linsangs that changed everything. Although there are a couple of African linsangs that are part of viverridae, the Asiatic linsangs are no relation. Asiatic linsangs are related to felids — right now they’re the closest known relatives — but they’re not actually felids. They’re definitely not viverrids. Spotted linsangs and banded linsangs are just that — linsangs. They have their own family, known as Prionodontidae, of which they are the only members. So if you want to know what they are, look at the video. Or look at your cat because according to modern science they’re the closest thing to a cat that’s not a cat.