Genets are mongoose-like mammals in the family Viverridae in the order Carnivora. Other members of this family include civets, linsangs, mongooses and the fossa. The genet genus Genetta has three subgenera and nine species. Genets are found in Africa south of the Sahara desert, in the southwestern Arabian Peninsula, and in southern Europe. Genets have a long body, short legs, a pointed snout, prominent rounded ears, short curved retractile claws, and soft dense hair. They emit a musky scent from the anal glands, and females have two pairs of abdominal mammae. The color of the fur is variable, generally grayish or yellowish, with brown or black spots on the sides, 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 weigh 2.2-6.6 lb (1-3 kg). They have a head and body length of 16.5-22.9 in (42-58 cm), and the tail is 15.4-20.9 in (39-53 cm) long.
Genets live in savannas and in forests. They feed mostly on the ground hunting rodents, birds, reptiles and insects, and they climb trees to prey on nesting and roosting birds. Genets also eat game birds and poultry. When stalking their prey, genets crouch and seem to glide along the ground, and their bodies seem to lengthen. They can get through any opening their head can enter. Genets travel alone or in pairs. Radio tracking of
genets in Spain indicated a home range of 0.5 sq mi (1.4 sq km) for a three-month-old female and over 19 sq mi (50 sq km) in about five months for an adult male.
Genets communicate by vocal, olfactory, and visual signals. In Kenya, East Africa, pregnant and lactating female genets were found in May and from September to December. A captive genet (Genetta genetta) regularly produced two litters each year: in April/May and in July/August. Gestation lasts 56-77 days. Litter sizes range from one to four, but usually two or three young are born, which weigh 2.1-2.9 oz (61-82 g) at birth. The young begin to eat solid food at two months and in two years reach their adult weight. Captive genets became sexually mature at four years and produced offspring until death over 20 years later.
Genetta genetta is found in southern Europe and northwestern Africa, G. felina is found south of the Sahara and in the southwestern Arabian Peninsula, G. tigrina is found in South Africa and Lesotho, and G. rubiginosa is found elsewhere in Africa. Genets in Europe are declining in numbers because of persecution for depredation on game birds and poultry and because their winter pelts are highly valued. The subspecies G. genetta isabelae of Ibiza Island in the Balearics is endangered.
The aquatic genet (Osbornictis piscivora) occurs in northeastern Zaire. The head and body length of an adult male is 17.5 in (44.5 cm) and the tail length is 13.4 in (34 cm). Males weigh 3.1 lb (1.43 kg) and females 3.3 lb (1.5 kg). Osbornictis piscivora is red to dull red with a black tail, and it has elongated white spots between the eyes. The front and sides of the muzzle and sides of the head below the eyes are whitish. There are no black spots or bands on the body and the tail is not ringed. The fur is long and dense, especially on the tail, but the palms and soles are not furred as in Genetta and related forms. The skull is long and lightly built. Teeth are relatively small and weak, but seem adapted to catching slippery prey like fish and frogs. It is believed that the bare palms help these animals feel for fish in muddy holes. Fish are the chief diet of these rare animals which do not live in groups or families.