While out on game drive recently, I saw a genet eating something on the ground, and on closer inspection is was a flower, or at least what looked like a flower.
This behaviour was new to me, and triggered me to do some research into their diet.
Genets are mainly carnivorous and are adapted to a semi-arboreal lifestyle, but I’ve also often seen them chasing bushveld gerbils and other small rodents at night and climbing trees in search of roosting birds.
Little is actually known about their ecology and their role as primary and secondary consumers. This is partly due to our focus on the larger mammals – namely the big five – as this is what most guests are interested in when coming to visit us at Londolozi. The smaller nocturnal predators run the risk of being overlooked, even though they play a vital role in the maintenance of a healthy and functioning ecosystem.
So, back to genets themselves…
Genets are small, spotted carnivores with wide faces and bushy stripped tails. Within Southern Africa there are two main species: the South African large-spotted genet and the small-spotted genet.
There is very little obvious difference between them when seen on game drive, so the easiest way to differentiate the two is by looking at the tip of their tail. This is black in the tip of the large-spotted genet species and white in the small-spotted genet species.
Genets are thought to have evolved more slowly than any other carnivores and still show the most primitive skeletal features of the order Carnivora.
For example, they have a longer jaw and a greater number of upper molars than their close relative, felids, which are the cats like leopards and lions. Interestingly enough there are many parallels between these two groups when it comes to their vocal repertoires. Both genets and cats hiss and ‘spit’. They also make ‘churring’ and ‘yapping’ noises in stressful situations.
Their role in ecosystem maintenance is an important one, as the majority of their diet consists of rodents and other small mammals. Their hunting skill and necessary dexterity of these mammals in action it is pretty incredible. They also consume large quantities of insects and fruits, the latter making them effective for seed dispersal, and it’s the latter again which got my attention.
Do they have a sweet tooth?
Recent research in the Western Cape by Sandy-Lynn Steenhuisen et al focused on monitoring the interaction of carnivorous mammals with flowers, particularly proteas. Her team recorded around 30 species of flowers being pollinated by small, ground dwelling mammals. “But the spotted genets were something of a surprise and accounted for 7% of all recorded visits to the flowers and appeared very keen on the nectar”, said Steenhuisen.
“The genets dove right into the blooms which contain over 30% sugar by weight. Pollen had been seen on their snouts after they drank, which supports the theory that they play a larger role in pollinating plants than previously thought.”
As previously mentioned genets are mainly meat eaters but Steenhuisen thinks they may visit the flowers for a “sugar kick”.
“These unrelated mammals all have different diets, so its a puzzle as to what kind of common attractive signal is being emitted”.
A study done in 2012 in Zurich found that most meat eaters can’t actually taste sugars, bearing mutated genes that would be responsible for a sweet tooth. One possibility may be the fact that flowers emit a fermented odour similar to that of sour milk or cheese which would be more likely to entice genets in, as opposed to a sweet sugary smell.
This could possibly be the reason why I saw the genet eating a flower – maybe the flowers have just evolved to fool the genets into thinking they’re getting something a little more meaty…
Filed under Photography Safari experience Wildlife
Nice interesting article. Thanks!
Loved this blog Guy. An interesting read.
Fascinating, Africa is always full of surprises
Very interesting about the Genets … handsome animal…pollination …. very important topic for balanced eco system. I never heard of them before …thanks for the post….appreciate reading every day if my work day does not interfere!
How fascinating! I knew nothing of these little animals, their habits or effects on the ecosystem. And what a tail! Like the leopard, I assume their very long tail helps with balance when climbing a tree. Nor was I aware that most meat eating animals were unable to taste sweetness. You have done a great job, Guy. My thanks!
Guy, I saved white tipped🤗 I saved the genet🤗
Fascinating animal. It takes everyone of the different species to make this all work. Thanks for highlighting the Genet
Interesting read and nice photo of the genet in the tree. Thanks!
Very interesting article. I love genets.
Very interesting! Such special little creatures!
This was such interesting reading Guy, and an animal I’d really like to see. When looking at its photo, the head is rather fox-like attached to a lean feline body, quite exotic. As far as larger cats go, I’ve wondered if in lean food times, they’d resort to nibbling on vegetation for some type of sustenance-or perhaps their digestive systems won’t tolerate fruits/vegetation.
I really enjoyed reading more about genets, Guy. There was a family of genets living near our lodge at Phinda and we often saw them at night while we were having dinner, seemingly interested in the food, the smells or ?? If I’d read your blog beforehand, I would have paid more attention to whether it was the food!
Thank you for this – I love the small mammals, which are so often ignored. When I (hopefully) come back in November, for my 4th visit to Londo, I hope I am lucky enough to see one!
Guy, thanks for another great story. There’s a lot to be said about the little guys too!
So interesting Guy, having never seen one it’s great to have so much info to chew on. Hopefully one day, when back in SA I might get lucky. 🙏❤️
What are the main threats to genets, Guy?
Hi Guy! Very interesting to read your blog about Genets. Beautiful pictures! Thank you for sharing!
A friend of ours in Natal found a Lesser Spotted Genet in a cage and being rather badly treated. She got it released to her and took it to a wonderful Private Reserve outside Howick which was also residential to people who bought shares in it. We were staying with them and she said every night “Slinky”, the wild genet, would come for a little bit of supper which they brought out on the patio for her. It was usually a bit of chicken and cat biscuits. No-one could get a photo of her as she was very shy. However, my husband, Neil, hid behind a glass door on to the patio which kept open especially that evening, and got a lovely picture of Slinky with a flash. Sheer luck he says! Wendy M
Fascinating post Guy! Thanks for the research and information share!
Interesting to learn that they can also pollinate!