Binturong

Common Name:
Binturongs
Scientific Name:
Arctictis binturong
Type:
Mammals
Diet:
Omnivore
Average Life Span In The Wild:
18 years
Size:
2.3 to 2.8 feet
Weight:
24 to 71 pounds
IUCN Red List Status:
Vulnerable
Current Population Trend:
Decreasing

What is a binturong?

Sometimes called a bearcat because of its appearance, the binturong is actually a member of the Viverridae family, which includes animals such as civets and genets. The binturong has shaggy black hair, which is sometimes streaked with silver, and wiry whiskers that can give the animal a rather frumpy appearance.

Though binturongs aren’t as agile as squirrels or monkeys, these creatures are built for a life in the canopy. A tail nearly as long as the binturong’s body serves as a fifth limb for grabbing onto branches and tree trunks. With its tail latched safely around a branch, the binturong can sleep safely high above the ground. Another arboreal adaptation? Binturongs maintain a tight grip while walking face-first down a tree by rotating their hind paws 180 degrees. This allows their semi-retractable claws to sink into the bark.

While binturongs are not closely related to bears, they do share an ursid’s stiff-legged, flat-footed amble and a body that’s low to the ground.

Despite their small stature—or perhaps, because of it—binturongs are known to be fierce when confronted by humans. The animals are even known to growl, wail, hiss, or purr, depending on their mood. Fortunately, because the bearcats are most active at night and in the treetops, encounters between binturongs and people are relatively rare.

Habitat and diet

The binturong is native to the tropical rainforests of South and Southeast Asia, where it spends much of the day hidden in the canopy. Though they sport many adaptations for an arboreal lifestyle, binturongs do not seem to leap between trees. Instead, they must descend to the forest floor to investigate new areas.

Even though the binturong belongs to the order Carnivora, the animals are omnivores through and through. Binturongs have been known to eat everything from small mammals, birds, fish, worms, and insects to plant shoots, leaves, and fruit. In fact, one study found that several species of fruit seeds germinate faster after they travel through a binturong’s digestive system, which could mean the fluffballs play an important role as seed dispersers.

Reproduction

Not much is known about how binturongs make baby binturongs, or binlets, but scientists believe most courtship takes place in the trees. Because the animals are thought to be territorial, scent markings may play a large role in helping binturongs find members of the opposite sex.

Like the other members of the Viverridae family, binturongs have powerful scent glands at the base of their tails, which they use to slather pheromones across their territories. But unlike other mammals, the binturong’s secretions smell like hot, buttered popcorn. (Here’s why binturongs and some other animals smell like snack foods.)

Another way that binturongs seem to sidestep the problems of low population densities is through a reproductive strategy known as “delayed implantation.” This means that mating can take place year-round, but the fertilized embryo won’t implant into the uterine wall until January, February, or March, when food is most plentiful. This allows the species to make the most of chance encounters while also not putting too much stress on the female’s body during times of food shortage.

Threats to survival

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List classifies the binturong as vulnerable to extinction. It is considered rare throughout its range, and its population is thought to be on the decline.

The most pressing threats to binturong populations are habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation because of logging and agriculture. Binturongs need tall, healthy forests to survive.

In some parts of the binturong’s range, the animals are captured and sold into the pet or traditional medicine trade. Binturongs are also sometimes killed for their meat or fur.

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