The external and endocranial surfaces of the skull of the African palm civet, Nandinia binotata (Gray, 1830), are described and illustrated in detail based on 30 specimens (from Carnegie Museum of Natural History and American Museum of Natural History). With the inclusion of a newborn and six juveniles with deciduous dentitions, a reasonable ontogenetic series is represented. The bone-by-bone descriptions are primarily based on the condition in an adult female and the newborn with consideration of variation across the sample. The principal cranial foramina are treated in a glossary, and the hyoid apparatus and larynx are described from a single specimen. The sample exhibits a remarkable degree of variability in cranial features that are often used as different states of characters in phylogenetic analysis (e.g., number and position of palatal foramina, the orbital mosaic, and composition of the lacrimal foramen).
Nandinia binotata, the only taxon in the Nandiniidae, has been identified as the most basal extant feliform in recent phylogenetic analyses of both molecular and morphological data. It has long been recognized that its ear region with its uninflated auditory bulla exhibits a primitive level of organization. To assess the primitive nature of the skull of N. binotata, comparisons are made with three extant carnivorans, the felid Felis catus Linnaeus, 1758, the viverrid Genetta genetta (Linnaeus, 1758), and the canid Canis lupus Linnaeus, 1758. Of the three, N. binotata shares numerous resemblances across the skull with G. genetta, which accounts for its historical inclusion in the Viverridae. Whereas aspects of the ear region of N. binotata are clearly unique among extant carnivorans, the rest of its skull is not similarly so.