Animals Mistaken for Mustelids

It is not uncommon for many animals to be mistaken for weasels or other mustelids based on familiar associations, or their similar appearance. The complicated truth is, many animals cannot be identified by their outward appearance alone. For this reason, even if an animal has weasel-like features (example: elongated body, rounded ears and short legs), that does not necessarily mean it is a mustelid, or even closely related to one. Some animals that are frequently mistaken for mustelids in fact form their own branch within the superfamily Musteloideawhich is misleadingly called the “weasel superfamily”—given raccoons, red pandas and other non-weasel animals are included in this branch.


• AiluridaeRed panda

Although this sole species is basal to both mustelids and procyonids (raccoons), the red panda forms its own unique family branch, Ailurids.(1)

• Eupleridae: Malagasy carnivores

A family endemic to Madagascar, closely related to Herpestids. They may look more cat-like than weasel, but they are often mistaken for weasels because of their rounded ears.

• HerpestidaeMongooses

They look similar in ways, but species of mongoose (which include meerkats) are not mustelids. They are not even closely related.

• Mephitidae: Skunks and stink badgers

Perhaps the most common species mistaken for mustelids are skunks. Skunks were formerly classified as a subfamily of Mustelidae, but in the late 1990s they were given their own classification, Mephitidae.(2) Similarly, the stink badger was once considered to be related to the European badger, but recent DNA analysis indicated they share more in common with skunks; as a result they were also placed in the family Mephitidae.(3)

• ViverridaeCivets, genets, binturongs and allies

Members of the family Viverridae are commonly called civets or genets. Many species within this family share weasel-like to marten-like characteristics, and are understandably mistaken for mustelids.


References

  1. Flynn, John J., et al. “Whence the red panda?.” Molecular phylogenetics and evolution 17.2 (2000): 190-199.
  2. Dragoo, Jerry W., and Rodney L. Honeycutt. “Systematics of mustelid-like carnivores.” Journal of Mammalogy 78.2 (1997): 426-443.
  3. Koepfli, Klaus-Peter, et al. “Multigene phylogeny of the Mustelidae: resolving relationships, tempo and biogeographic history of a mammalian adaptive radiation.” BMC biology 6.1 (2008): 10.


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