Home > Civetone (Molecule of the Month for May 1997 )

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Picture of Civetone

Two of the oldest-known ingredients of perfumes, musk and civet, are odoriferous animal products that function as attractant pheromones in nature.

Musk originally came from the male musk deer Moschus moschiferus, a native of China and Tibet, while the sources of civet were the African and Asian civet cats Viverra civetta and Viverra zibetha. Both musk and civet were ancient articles of commerce.

Musk and civet have a heavy, musky odor that is still considered essential in perfumery. Through the years cheaper and more convenient natural sources of musky scents were found. Not only more accessible mammals, such as the muskrat, provided appropriate substitutes, but there were also an octopus, an alligator, and a snail that furnished musky essences; there is even a musk beetle.

Twentieth century chemical investigations of the active principles of musk and civet and the subsequent laboratory preparation of these compounds permitted synthetic chemicals to replace the animal products.

The major active compounds in natural musk and civet are two large-ring compounds known as muscone and civetone. Most of the rings in natural products contain five or six carbon atoms, and these compounds with fifteen- and seventeen membered rings are distinctly odd.

T he Civet is found from Senegal to Somalia and south to Namibia and eastern South Africa. The African Civet is widely distributed in both forests and savannas, where there is long grass and thickets for sufficient daytime cover. It seems to use a permanent burrow or nest only to bear its offspring. It is a solitary animal but has various visual and auditory means of communication. The Civet's scent glands have a major social role. It leaves its scent along paths to convey information, such as whether a female is in estrus. It also has three agonistic vocalizations: the growl, cough-spit, and scream, but the most commonly heard sound is the "ha-ha-ha" used in making contact.

The Civet's head and body length can be up to 36 inches, tail length up to 25 inches, and weight up to 44 pounds. Its coat is black with white or yellowish spots, stripes, and bands. The long and coarse hair is thick on the tail. All of the Civet's feet have five claws and the soles are hairy.

The Civet's diet consists of carrion, rodents, birds, eggs, reptiles, frogs, crabs, insects, fruits, and other vegetation. After a gestation period of 60-72 days, the female will give birth to one to four offspring. A Civet in captivity will live for about 28 years.

Formal Chemical Name (IUPAC)

Update by Karl Harrison
(Molecule of the Month for May 1997 )