mongoose

Meerkat Facts

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Fast and agile, the mongoose is a skilled hunter who can catch almost anything.

The mongoose is a small, sleek animal (similar in appearance to a weasel) that roams the forests and plains of Asia and Africa. Because of their bold nature, mongooses have been the subject of human mythology for thousands of years. However, the mongoose's life as an ordinary animal was far more complex and interesting than these myths would suggest.

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interesting mongoose facts

  • The mongoose is one of the most famous animals, perhaps best known for its remarkable ability to kill snakes such as cobras. Scientists believe they have evolved a protein that provides some protection against snake venom. However, they are not completely immune to repeated snake bites.
  • Ancient Egyptians sometimes placed mummified mongooses with their owners in their graves because they were common pets.
  • An Indian gray mongoose named Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is immortalized in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book .
  • Mongooses have horizontal pupils, similar to those of sheep and horses, which help them hide from predators.
  • In many places, mongooses are considered an invasive species because they pose a threat to native bird species, including protected and endangered species.
Mongoose in front of the rock
A mongoose is an example of a cat or feline carnivore.

© Pkuczynski/Creative Commons

scientific name

Meerkat is a colloquial or common term used to refer to a group of similar species belonging exclusively to the mongoose family. The scientific name is derived from Greek and refers to a four-legged walking or crawling animal. Meerkats belong to the same order as cats, bears, dogs, seals, and raccoons—Carnivora. They are most closely related to civets such as civets, civets, and wood rats. The mongoose, an animal more distantly related to the hyena, is an example of a cat, or feline carnivore.

evolution

It is believed that at some point early in their evolution, these animals split into two distinct subfamilies: Herpestinae and Mungotinae. A third subfamily, called Galidiinae, was once grouped with the other two subfamilies. The Galidiinae, endemic to Madagascar, are sometimes called Madagascar mongooses because of their similar appearance. However, this subfamily is now classified as the Eupleridae family rather than the Herpestidae family.

About 34 species of mongoose are still alive. This includes 23 Herpestinae and 11 Mungotinae. Some extinct species are also known from the fossil record. Meerkat species are unevenly distributed throughout the family. Some genera have only one species. However, there are about 10 extant species in the genus Herpestes, including the famous Indian gray cat, Egyptian mongoose, and crab-eating mongoose.



what eats snakes
Mongooses are known for aggressively attacking venomous snakes such as the king cobra.

© Steve Bushman/Shutterstock.com

appearance

These animals are usually elongated creatures with elongated bodies, short legs, thin snouts, and small round ears. Coat color is almost always brown, gray, or even yellow, sometimes spotted or striped. There may also be a distinctive ring pattern or color on the tail. Some people mistake them for weasels because of their appearance, although their traditional ranges rarely overlap.

The size of the mongoose as an animal (not a myth!) varies from species to species. Their bodies range from an average of 7 inches in a small pygmy mongoose to an average of 25 inches in a giant Egyptian mongoose, with the tail adding another 6 to 21 inches. This makes the typical animal about the size of a house cat. The largest species can also weigh up to 11 pounds when fully grown.

Mongoose - Herpestidae - Types of Mongoose in Dirt
Meerkats rely on vocalizations to signal threats, initiate courtship, and convey messages.

Behavior

Their sense of smell is an important part of mongoose communication. This is due to the presence of large scent glands near the anus, which they use to signal mates and mark their territory. In fact, the scent glands are the main feature that distinguishes these animals from civets, cats and forest cats. The mongoose (the correct plural form of mongoose) is an animal that also relies on vocalizations to signal threats, initiate courtship, and communicate other important messages to other members. They can communicate with each other through an impressive variety of sounds, including cries, growls and giggles. Each sound is accompanied by a different set of behaviors.

In general, Herpestidae families exhibit a wide range of social structures and behaviors. Some species thrive in solitude or in small groups, while others live in groups of up to 50 individuals. For example, the famous mongooses (of TV show fame) live in large cooperative bands with a distinct social hierarchy. Individuals are sometimes responsible for specialized tasks such as guard duties, hunting and child protection. The life and death of the group depends on the actions of each member.

A species' specific social arrangements may be related to its body size and animal type. The larger, more intimidating Egyptian mongoose is a solitary hunter, while the smaller pygmy mongoose is a more social animal that hides from predators by gathering in large groups. Alone, alone is vulnerable. But even the smaller animal can be difficult to kill when it's part of a wolf pack.

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The mongoose's small size belies its rather bold personality. The creature is able to fend off dangerous predators that are much larger or more aggressive than it is. Being able to kill snakes (even venomous species!) is just one example. These animals can also sometimes evade or confuse deadly predators with incredible speed and agility. Some species can run at an average speed of 20 miles per hour.

These animals are most active during the day when they are hunting and socializing. They tend to sleep overnight in their dens. Meerkats can be very intelligent and playful, especially in social situations.

mongoose teeth
Mongooses hunt during the day and sleep in burrows at night.

© Martin J Gruber/Shutterstock.com

Habitat

The mongoose is an Old World animal that thrives primarily in hot or tropical regions. The largest populations are found in sub-Saharan and eastern Africa and include most Mungotinae species and some Herpestinae species. They are also fairly common across large swaths of South Asia from China to the Middle East. Other common locations include southern Iberia, Indonesia, and Borneo.

These are mainly terrestrial mammals that roam the ground. They inhabit a variety of climates and habitats, including tropical forests, deserts, savannas, and grasslands. However, there are some notable exceptions. Some species, such as crab-eating mongooses, are semi-aquatic and spend most of their time in and near water. They are very good at swimming with nets between their fingers. Other species live in trees and move effortlessly from branch to branch. Terrestrial mongooses, on the other hand, use their large, non-retractable claws to burrow into the ground. They spend most of their time in the complex tunnel system they create.

what do meerkats eat

©/Shutterstock.com

diet

These animals are opportunistic carnivores that will feed on a huge variety of different foods, both live and dead. These may include reptiles, small birds and mammals, amphibians, insects, worms and crabs. However, some species will supplement their diet with fruits, vegetables, roots, nuts and seeds. If the opportunity presents itself, then the animal will steal or feed on the prey of other creatures.

An intelligent animal, the mongoose has learned the ability to smash shells, nuts or eggs on rocks to crack them open. It can slam objects directly into hard surfaces or throw objects from a distance. This strategy is passed down from generation to generation, which may represent a transmissible form of culture.

However, the mongoose's diverse sense of taste can be a problem for other species, and they are already considered invasive in some areas.

A gray eagle perched on a rock against a blue sky
Eagles are one of the mongoose's few natural enemies.

©iStock.com/mjf795

Predators and Threats

Mongooses have only a few natural enemies in the wild, such as hawks and big cats. Larger mongooses can defend themselves against predators through sheer size, but smaller species are especially vulnerable to predation by large predators. The mongoose is also sometimes threatened by venomous snakes, but the mongoose wins out over this fearsome reptile due to its agility and speed. Its sheer adaptability allows it to thrive in many different geographic regions across Asia and Africa. However, some types of mongoose are currently in decline due to habitat loss due to human encroachment. They need plenty of space for burrows and social arrangements.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, human settlers introduced mongooses across the globe—particularly to several oceanic islands like Hawaii—to help control pests on plantations and farms. Although the meerkat rarely succeeds in this task, it does have unintended consequences, pushing much of the local wildlife—including many unique birds—to the brink of extinction. For this reason, mongooses are considered one of the world's top invasive species, and some efforts have been made to cull or limit mongoose populations in non-indigenous areas.

Mongoose (Helogale Parvula) - with baby
Meerkats give birth to one to six pups per litter.

© Cassidy Te/Shutterstock.com

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

Reproduction in meerkats varies widely between species, as it often reflects their social structure. Solitary mongooses will only meet for breeding at regular intervals, usually once a year. One or both parents can raise the pups. Large colonies, on the other hand, often have one dominant member with near-exclusive reproductive rights to a few females—or sometimes just one pair of males—and the female is dominant.

Once mating is complete, the female will give birth a few months after conception. She can give birth to a litter of up to six pups at a time. Meerkat pups tend to grow relatively quickly. After weaning, pups will remain dependent on their parents for several months. It can take anywhere from six months to two years for a puppy to fully mature.

In more social mongoose species, pups are introduced to the colony at an early age. While foraging, several members will stay behind to protect the young. In some groups, puppies choose specific adult animals to provide regular food and care. Individuals may even develop lifelong bonds with family members and/or groups or other members of groups.

Lifespan largely depends on the species, but a typical mongoose can live around 10 years in the wild, and maybe twice that in captivity.

Meerkats in Barcelona Zoo
Although the actual population size is unknown, the meerkats appear to be in good health.

© Millie Bond – Copyright AZ Animals

population

While precise population numbers are difficult to estimate, many mongoose species around the world appear to be healthy. The Indian gray mongoose is perhaps the most widely distributed species. It is common across a complete range throughout the Indian subcontinent and southern Iran.

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According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, the Liberian mongoose is the only species that qualifies for Vulnerable status, while several other species are near threatened. However, the Madagascar mongoose, while not a true mongoose, is under threat in its native habitat, as several species are endangered. Some species will need to stop or reverse habitat loss to regain previous levels again.

species

Herpes

  • Common Slender Mongoose – Also known as the black-tailed mongoose, this common species is native to sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Grey-horned mongoose – These small mongooses often roam the roads of southern Africa. They stand on their hind legs like mongooses.
  • Indian Gray Mongoose – Native to India and western Asia, the Indian gray mongoose inhabits open forests, scrub and cultivated land close to human habitation.
  • Javan Mongoose – Native to Southeast Asia, the Javan Mongoose has a creamy tan color with a rich tea-brown coat.
  • Yellow Mongoose – This mongoose is native to Asia and is known for its pale yellow fur.
  • White-tailed mongoose – One of the largest members of the mongoose family – the white-tailed mongoose is found in most of sub-Saharan Africa and southern Arabia.
  • The long-nosed mongoose – which is another species of African mongoose – is found in most of sub-Saharan Africa and southern Arabia.
  • Selous Mongoose – The Selous mongoose is the only member of the genus Paracanis and is native to southern Africa.
  • Bushy-tailed mongoose – Known for its bushy tail, this species of mongoose is found in central Africa – from Kenya to central Mozambique.
  • Meerer's mongoose — native to the savannas and woodlands of southeastern Africa — this little brown mongoose likes to eat termites.
  • Egyptian Mongoose – This largest species of mongoose lives in upper Africa, including Egypt.
  • Crab-eating Mongoose – This species prefers to hunt along river banks and water bodies where they feed on crabs, fish, frogs, snails, birds, rodents, insects and reptiles. They are distributed in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent, southern China, Southeast Asia and Taiwan.

Mango subfamily

  • Ringed mongoose – Also known as the banded mongoose, this species lives in the savannas and grasslands of southern Africa. They are brown with white stripes on their backs and feed mainly on beetles and millipedes.
  • Gambian Mongoose – These very vocal mongooses live in groups of up to 40 individuals in the Guinea forest-savanna mosaic from the Gambia to Nigeria.
  • Poursargues Mongoose – Also known as the African savannah mongoose, this species is native to Central Africa. Little is known about its distribution and ecology.
  • Liberian Mongoose – This gregarious mongoose is native to Liberia and the Ivory Coast and is closely related to the ringed or banded mongoose.
  • Ethiopian dwarf mongoose – Also known as the desert dwarf mongoose, this small animal warns its pack of danger. They are native to East Africa – mainly Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.
  • Common Pygmy Mongoose – The smallest of the African carnivores, this small mongoose is extremely social and territorial. The common dwarf mongoose is found in Angola, northern Namibia, KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, Zambia and East Africa.
  • Kusimanse Mongoose – The Kusimanse is a small species of mongoose found in the West African countries of Ghana, Ivory Coast, Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone. It prefers forests near water to the grasslands that other mongooses inhabit.
  • Mongoose – Probably the most famous mongoose is the cute one! Native to South Africa, these highly intelligent creatures use complex coordinated behaviors like chimpanzees, dolphins and humans!

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about the author

Lisa Pace


After a career providing opportunities for local communities to experience and create art, I enjoy having time to write about two of my favorite things – nature and animals. I spend half my life outside, usually with my husband and adorable 14 year old puppy. We enjoyed walking around the lake and taking photos of the animals we encountered including: otters, osprey, Canada geese, ducks and nesting bald eagles. I also enjoy reading, discovering books to add to my library, collecting and playing vinyl records, and listening to my son's music.

Mongoose FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the plural of mongoose?

The plural form of mongoose is mongooses, not mongeese as it is sometimes thought.

Are mongooses carnivores, herbivores or omnivores?

While some types of mongoose will supplement their diet with plants, such as nuts or fruit, mongooses are generally carnivorous and will eat a range of other animals – including birds, reptiles, insects, crabs, and even small mammals.

Are mongooses dangerous?

Meerkats pose no direct threat to humans, but they may fight back if threatened or startled. Therefore, wild mongooses should be approached with caution.

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Can mongooses be kept as pets?

Although mongooses display compassion and intelligence (they can even be taught to juggle), they are often poor pets. Unless socialized from an early age, they are completely unsuitable for a home environment and may display destructive behavior. Even getting one can be difficult due to state laws and the challenges of keeping them. Many countries also prevent people from importing them from other parts of the world. As a result, mongooses are rarely kept as pets and are not recommended.

However, they are thought to have been a common pet in ancient Egypt, and some burial drawings show meerkats on leashes. Mummified mongooses have also been found in their owners' graves, as it is common to bury companions of pets in the afterlife.

How did mongooses evolve?

The evolution of meerkats is unknown, but based on genetic evidence, the taxonomic family likely began to evolve at least 20 million years ago. Some fossils found in Pakistan's Siwalik Formation date back 10 million years.

To which kingdom do mongooses belong?

Meerkats belong to the animal kingdom.

What phylum do mongooses belong to?

Meerkats belong to the phylum Chordate.

What class do mongooses belong to?

Mongooses belong to the class Mammalia.

What family do mongooses belong to?

Meerkats belong to the mongoose family.

What order do mongooses belong to?

Meerkats belong to the order Carnivora.

What genus do mongooses belong to?

Mongooses belong to the genus Herpes.

What type of mulch do mongooses have?

Mongooses are covered in fur.

What type of habitat do mongooses live in?

Mongooses live in open forests and grasslands.

What is the main prey of mongooses?

Mongooses prey on mice, eggs, and insects.

Who are the mongoose's natural enemies?

Predators of mongooses include eagles, snakes and jackals.

What is the average litter size for a meerkat?

The average litter size of a meerkat is 4 litters.

Any interesting facts about mongooses?

Meerkats are only 1 to 3 feet in size!

What is the mongoose's scientific name?

The scientific name of the mongoose is Helogale Parvula.

What is the lifespan of a mongoose?

Mongooses can live 10 to 15 years.

How fast are mongooses?

Meerkats can travel at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.

Who would win the battle between a mongoose and a rattlesnake?

Although the natural ranges of mongooses and rattlesnakes do not overlap, mongooses are likely to be seen in battle with rattlesnakes. Both African and Asian mongoose species are skilled at hunting venomous snakes and have some degree of resistance to venom.

What is the Difference Between a Mongoose and a Ferret?

There are many differences between mongooses and ferrets. They are from different families, ferrets are domesticated while mongooses are not.

What is the difference between a mongoose and a honey badger?

Honey badgers are much larger than mongooses, and mongooses are more social than aggressive honey badgers.

Who will win the battle between the mongoose and the inland taipan?

The mongoose would win the fight against the inland taipan, but the mongoose would probably die shortly after winning. Mongooses have limited resistance to certain snake venoms. However, these mammals live in Africa; they are not accustomed to the venom from inland taipans in Oceania.

What is the difference between mongoose and meerkat?

Although mongooses and meerkats belong to the same family, mongooses are larger and heavier than meerkats. While most meerkats are solitary animals, mongooses thrive in complex social groups.

Who will win the battle between a king cobra and a mongoose?

Mongooses will kill king cobras in combat. Mongooses specialize in hunting venomous snakes for food in their range. These animals have some resistance to venomous snake bites, which means they enter the fight with the advantage.

A king cobra may need to bite a mongoose more than once to put it down. At the same time, the speed and agility of this mammal are so much higher that it can crush a snake's skull with just one bite.

What is the difference between a mongoose and a weasel?

One is a member of the "dog-like" carnivore canis, while the other is a member of the felidae or "feline" carnivore. But that's not all – read all about their differences here!

Who will win the battle between Gabon vipers and mongooses?

The mongoose would win the battle against the Gabon viper. The Gaboon viper is too easygoing and slow to move. It is a docile snake unless it is hunting or fighting other males during the breeding season. Mongooses can be very hostile, so they will charge into the fray, ready to overwhelm the slow-moving creature.

Thanks for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the 10hunting.com editorial team.

source
  1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animals, The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife
  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) Encyclopedia of World Animals
  3. David Burney, Kingfisher (2011) The Animal Encyclopedia of Kingfishers
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) Atlas of Threatened Species
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