Mongooses are known to be quite scrappy and fight fiercely with larger prey and predators such as snakes. This small furry mammal from Africa and Asia is also studied for its social behaviour because several species live in highly structured groups. These mongoose species form families or communities that interact and coordinate with each other to help feed and protect their broods. They may also designate leadership positions and mediate conflicts within their own groups and other packs of mongooses.
Several species of mongoose take part in social living, meaning that they live in groups of more than one adult female and male. However, most mongoose species are solitary animals that den, forage and travel on their own. Eight types of mongoose are known to cohabit in small packs, although some may hunt on their own. The dwarf mongoose typically lives in groups of three to 30 individuals. Yellow mongooses are also social and live in groups that range from one breeding pair to families of up to 20. They arrange their carefully selected groups in a hierarchy, with one central breeding pair and other pairs and offspring below them. The yellow mongoose can also be quite cooperative with other related animals; they may even share their burrows with ground squirrels and meerkats.
Communication and Territorial Behavior
Mongoose species that are social are also typically very vocal; this helps them organize and protects themselves. The dwarf species have a range of danger calls, whistling, twittering or growling to communicate urgency and the type of predator lurking nearby. Yellow mongooses swish, flick or hold their tails upright to signal to other mongooses. They also growl or screech loudly in warning when angered or to scare off a predator. This species of mongoose also barks when it is frightened, or when it is just being playful. Dominant males from both the yellow and dwarf species mark their territory with urine, or by rubbing on rocks or trees to leave fur and scent behind.
Shelter and Food Preferences
Most mongooses are land animals that burrow into multi-channel dens under tree roots and large rocks. Some species spend part of their day climbing trees, while others are semi-aquatic and can swim. Banded mongooses native to the African desert areas are nomadic and move between dens about every four days. Most mongoose species forage for foods on their own, but they will join forces to attack larger prey. They are not fussy eaters and will feed on small animals and insects such as snakes, rodents, birds, worms and beetles. Some species also add fruits and nuts to their diet. The dwarf species prefers to dig for insects and other small invertebrates. All mongooses can be quite creative in pursuing food and will pry open hard beetle shells with sticks and break eggs against large rocks.
Breeding and Raising Cubs
Like other mammals, yellow mongooses show affection to a partner by cuddling, licking and purring. The mothers gestate the young for up to 57 days before giving birth to one to five cubs. Young mongooses are primarily born in the cooler months of October to March. This may be because the litter is safer during this time as many predators are hibernating or not as active as in the summer months. Yellow mongooses are weaned in burrows until they reach adult size at about 10 months. Some types of cooperative mongooses help to raise the group's cubs by babysitting them while their parents are off foraging or hunting.
- University of Bristol: Dwarf Mongoose Research Project
- Ecological Aspects of Social Evolution: Birds and Mammals; Daniel I. Rubenstein and Richard V. Wrangham
- Woburn Safari Park: Yellow Mongoose
- The Royal Society - Proceedings B: Individual Contributions to Babysitting in a Cooperative Mongoose, Suricata suricatta
- South African National Biodiversity Institute: Dwarf Mongoose
- aaprophoto/iStock/Getty Images