When we think of a mongoose, we could imagine a ferret-like creature that is known to attack snakes. However, the animal we call a mongoose is actually a term used for all mammals in the Herpestidae family. This is a more diverse group of animals than you might think. It even includes the meerkat, an animal you may not have known was a type of mongoose.
Today we share with you the different types of mongoose species that exist, and also, we show you how to differentiate them by revealing their different characteristics, habitats, diet and more.
What is a mongoose?
Mongooses are carnivorous mammals, characterized in part by their keen agility and ability to hunt. The mongoose is mainly terrestrial. Although they tend to be solitary, they can be grouped together to optimize hunting times, which gives us a clue to their distinctive success as a game animal.
Mongooses are divided into 14 genders with the family as a whole consisting of 33 individual species.
In this sense, the taxonomic classification of the mongoose is as follows:
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Edge: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Carnivora
- Family: Herpestidae
All species are often called mongooses. However, there is a group in the same family that is known as meerkats. Meerkats correspond to the genus Suricata, constituting its only species.
In general, mongooses are small animals. The smallest species is about 23 cm long and the largest is about 75 cm. They can vary in weight between 1 and 6 kg. As for color, they are usually gray or brown in different intensities. Some species of mongoose even have dotted markings. Their fur covers their entire body and they are all short-haired, although some have busier tails than others.
Mongooses have small pointed snouts. Its nose and ears are also smaller, the latter are not particularly erect. A characteristic feature of mongooses is that they have anal glands. They are glands that excrete a strong odor. This allows them to mark territory and recognize each other. They also have claws, although they are not retractable.
Types of mongooses
To know the different types of mongoose species, we must look at the different genera that make up the Herpestidae family. These mongoose species are divided into two subfamilies:
- Herpestes: within this genus we can find examples such as the common slender mongoose (H. sanguineus) and the Cape gray mongoose (Herpestes pulverulentus), all of which can be found in various parts of the African continent and none of which are considered in Danger of extinction.
- Urva: This genus of mongoose includes the Indian gray mongoose (U. edwardsii) and the Java mongoose (U. javanica). As their names suggest, this genus is native to various parts of Asia.
- Cynictis: contains only the yellow mongoose (C. penicillata).
Atilax: This genus contains only the marsh mongoose (A. paludinosus), also known as the water mongoose.
- Ichneumia: Another genus with a single extant mongoose species, the white-tailed mongoose (I. albicauda), known for its characteristic bushy white tail.
- Xenogale: only member is the long-nosed mongoose (X. naso).
- Paracynictis: only contains Selous mongoose (P. selousi).
- Bdeogale: Larger genus containing several species such as the bushy-tailed mongoose (B. crassicauda) and the black-legged mongoose (B. nigripes). These mongoose species are also native to Africa.
- Rhynchogale: Contains only Meller’s mongoose (R. melleri).
- Mungos: includes the ringed mongoose (M. mungo) and the Gambian mongoose (M. gambianus). The former is known for its distinctive stripes along its back.
- Dologale: Contains only the Pousargues mongoose (D. dybowskii), a species of mongoose that is poorly recorded in nature.
- Liberiictis: The Liberian mongoose (L. kuhni) is the only mongoose species in this genus and is currently considered vulnerable.
- Helogale: Includes only two species, the Ethiopian dwarf mongoose (H. hirtula) and the common dwarf mongoose (H. parvula). The common dwarf mongoose is not only the smallest mongoose species in the world, it is the smallest carnivore on the African continent.
- Crossarchus: members of this genus of mongooses are known as kusimanse, the best known being the common kusimanse (C. obscurus). They are very sociable and live in large groups.
- Meerkat: Perhaps the most well-known mongoose species in the world, even if many of us didn’t realize they were a type of mongoose. Commonly known as the meerkat (S. suricatta), it is the only member of this genus.
Some mongooses tend to have solitary habits, but there are also exceptions. Certain species of mongoose are capable of grouping, forming numerous colonies of up to 50. In these cases, it is common for them to form complex excavation systems. Another aspect related to their customs is that some may have arboreal habits. The meerkat is probably the best known of these sociable species of mongoose.
All are mainly diurnal and terrestrial, although when they live near bodies of water they can swim to find food. Some species more susceptible to predation and develop surveillance systems. In these cases, group members keep an eye on the area and warn in case they see a particular hazard.
Where does the mongoose live?
The mongoose is an animal native to Africa, Asia and Europe, which is why it has a great distribution worldwide. Within these regions, there is also a wide distribution of species, but this depends on the genus.
Mongoose habitat can vary. They thrive in various ecosystems, such as tropical forests, savannas, deserts, grasslands, swamps, riverbanks, and lakes.
What does the mongoose eat?
The mongoose is a carnivorous predator, with a varied diet that depends on its native ecosystem. They feed on small mammals, birds, eggs, reptiles, fish, crabs, and others. They also consume a great variety of insects and some species can even consume fruits.
The mongoose is commonly known for its ability to kill and devour certain species of poisonous snakes. Part of the reason they are considered such good snake hunters is that some species are able to easily combat and outshine even poisonous snake species. This is due to immunity to snake venom, something that has two possible explanations.
The first explanation indicates that they can be affected by this toxic substance, but they are so agile and fast moving that they can easily avoid being bitten.
The second explanation is based on studies that indicate the presence of a particular type of molecule in mongoose muscle cells. This molecule prevents certain poisons from reacting with its biochemistry. This means that they can prevent the muscle paralysis that commonly precedes death in this type of injury.
Reproduction of the mongoose
The reproductive aspects of each mongoose species are not precisely known. In general, these animals have a gestation period that can range from approximately 42 to 105 days, showing quite a large variation between species. The litters usually contain two young, but there are cases in which they can be larger, with some litters of up to five being registered.
Some types of mongoose show aggressiveness between males when a female is ready for breeding. On the other hand, members of certain groups also develop a courtship display. When this happens, it is the female who performs the movements and runs in front of the male to attract him.
Sexual maturity varies between mongoose species. In some, it is reached relatively quickly at 9 months, while in others it can take up to two years.
In general, most mongoose species are not considered threatened according to the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
However, there are currently some species that are important to monitor because they pose certain risks, such as the Jackson mongoose (Bdeogale jacksoni). Some species are not considered threatened, such as the bushy-tailed mongoose (Bdeogale crassicauda), but they still need protection in terms of habitat loss. These are often due to deforestation and hunting for hides or even bushmeat.