A mongoose (plural Mongooses, alternatively Mongeese) is a member of the family Herpestidae, a family of small cat-like carnivores. Mongooses are widely distributed in Asia, Africa the Caribbean, and southern Europe.
The 34 species range from 24 to 58 cm (9.4 to 22.8 in) in length, excluding the tail. Mongooses range in weight from the common dwarf mongoose, at 320 g (11 oz), to the cat-sized white-tailed mongoose, at 5 kg (11 lb).
Some species lead predominantly solitary lives, seeking out food only for themselves, while others travel in groups, sharing food among group members and offspring.
Mongooses bear a striking resemblance to mustelids, having long faces and bodies, small, rounded ears, short legs, and long, tapering tails. Most are brindled or grizzly; a few have strongly marked coats. Their nonretractile claws are used primarily for digging. Mongooses, much like goats, have narrow, ovular pupils. Most species have a large anal scent gland, used for territorial marking and signaling reproductive status. The dental formula of mongooses is similar to that of viverrids: 3.1.3-4.1-2.
Mongooses also have receptors for acetylcholine that, like the receptors in snakes, are shaped so that it is impossible for snake neurotoxin venom to attach to them. Mongooses are one of four known mammalian species with mutations in the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor that protect against snake venom. Pigs, honey badgers, hedgehogs, and mongooses all have modifications to the receptor pocket that prevents the snake venom α-neurotoxin from binding. These represent four separate, independent mutations. In the mongoose, this change is effected uniquely, by glycosylation. Researchers are investigating whether similar mechanisms protect the mongoose from hemotoxic snake venoms.
In contrast to the arboreal, nocturnal viverrids, mongooses are more commonly terrestrial and many are active during the day.
The Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) is sometimes held as an example of a solitary mongoose, though it has been observed to work in groups.
The Indian gray mongoose and others are well known for their ability to fight and kill venomous snakes, particularly cobras. They are adept at such tasks due to their agility, thick coats, and specialized acetylcholine receptors that render them resistant or immune to snake venom. However, they typically avoid the cobra and have no particular affinity for consuming its meat.
Some species can learn simple tricks. They can be semi-domesticated and are kept as pets to control vermin. However, they can be more destructive than desired; when imported into the West Indies to kill rats, they destroyed most of the small, ground-based fauna. For this reason, it is illegal to import most species of mongooses into the United States, Australia, and other countries. Mongooses were introduced to Hawaii in 1883 and have had a significant adverse effect on native species.
The mongoose emits a high-pitched noise, commonly known as giggling, when it mates. Giggling is also heard during courtship. Communities of female banded mongooses (Mungos mungo) synchronize their whelping to the same day to deter infanticide by dominant females.
It is not yet known how long a mongoose lives in its natural habitat; however, it is known that the average lifespan in captivity is twenty years.
Relationship with humans
In ancient Mesopotamia, mongooses were sacred to the deity Ningilin, who was conflated with Ningirima, a deity of magic who was invoked for protection against serpents. According to a Babylonian popular saying, when a mouse fled from a mongoose into a serpent's hole, it announced, "I bring you greetings from the snake-charmer!" A creature resembling a mongoose also appears in Old Babylonian glyptic art, but its significance is not known.
According to Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (1.35 & 1.87), Egyptians venerated native mongooses (Herpestes ichneumon) for their ability to handle venomous snakes and for their occasional diet of crocodile eggs. The Buddhist god of wealth Vaiśravaṇa, or Dzambala for Tibetans, is frequently depicted holding a mongoose that is spitting jewels from its mouth. The Hindu god of wealth, Kubera (being the son of Vishrava ("Fame"), Kubera is also called Vaisravana), is often portrayed holding a mongoose in his left hand, hence the sight of a mongoose is considered lucky by some.
All mongoose species, except for Suricata suricatta, are classed as a "prohibited new organism" under New Zealand's Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, preventing them from being imported into the country.
Mongooses are a common spectacle at roadside shows in Pakistan. Snake charmers keep mongooses for mock fights with snakes.
On Okinawa (where mongooses were misguidedly brought in to control the local habu snake), mongoose fights with these highly venomous snakes (Ovophis okinavensis and Trimeresurus flavoviridis) in a closed perimeter were presented as spectator events at such parks as Okinawa World; however, due to pressure from animal rights activists, the spectacle is less common today.
In popular culture
A well-known mongoose written in fiction is Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, who has a short story of the same title in The Jungle Book (1894) by Rudyard Kipling. In this story set in India, the young mongoose saves his family from a krait and from two cobras, named Nag and Nagaina. This story was later made into several movies, and also a song by Donovan.
Images for kids
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