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What is a Mongoose?

A banded mongoose.
Meerkats are a type of mongoose.
A snake is a noted enemy of a mongoose.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 March 2014
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A mongoose is a carnivorous mammal in the family Herpestidae, which also includes meerkats. The small mammals are perhaps most famous for their snake killing skills in India, where they are sometimes kept as pets. The family was immortalized in Rikki Tikki Tavi, a story about a mongoose written by Rudyard Kipling. In many parts of the world, the animal is considered lucky, probably because of its formidable skills as a predator.

The name comes from the Marathi language of India, in which the animal is known as a mangus. Since the mongoose is not in any way shape or form related to geese, there is some debate about the appropriate pluralization of the animal. Some people prefer “mongeese,” standardizing the animal with the plural of “goose,” while others use “mongooses.” Both are technically correct, although many people find the second to be an awkward construction.

Around 40 species of animal are considered to be mongeese. All of them have elongated bodies, long tails, and short legs, with pointed snouts and small, curved ears. The claws are well suited for digging, as is the construction of the animal's body. Many species can fold their ears so that dirt does not penetrate them while digging, and none is able to retract its sharp claws.

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Asia, Africa, and parts of Europe all host these mammals. They feed on small mammals, snakes, insects, and sometimes fruits and seeds as well. Despite their small size, they are excellent hunters, making them popular animals to have around in areas that are beset by mice and other small pests. In fact, the animals are such efficient hunters that they have been banned from the United States out of concern that they might threaten native animal species. Some biologists consider the mongoose to be among the most destructive introduced species, since it can devastate native animal populations.

The slender, agile animals are kept as pets in many regions, since they are relatively easy to domesticate and serve a useful function. Their famous fighting abilities against snakes have made them popular with snake charmers, who may use the animals in mock fights. Contrary to popular belief, the mongoose is not impervious to snake venom — the animals have simply evolved a system for killing snakes without being bitten. They also generally do not eat the snakes they kill, and only kill them as a defensive measure.

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Discuss this Article

lonelygod
Post 9

I think if you are curious to learn more about the mongoose, it is a good idea to visit your local zoo and see if they have any on display. I have found that getting up close to animals at the zoo can be very informative, especially if there is a zookeeper around to talk with.

You can also check your zoo to see if they have any close encounter programs. These kinds of mini-internships allow you to be a zookeeper for a day, and help feed the animals and learn more about them. I found that preparing food for the animals to be a fun experience, but not for those with weak stomachs, especially if you are working with carnivores.

popcorn
Post 8

I am actually surprised to learn that some people, beyond snake charmers, actually would keep a mongoose as a pet. I have always thought of them as similar to a badger, with sharp teeth and a bad temperament.

I guess it doesn't help that I have seen a few of the videos where the mongoose has taken down a cobra in a fight without breaking a sweat. I feel that when anything comes with that kind of killing skill, and sharp teeth, that it is a lot less pettable.

Has anyone ever had actual contact with a mongoose? Did you find it frightening at all, or was it good-natured?

kylee07drg
Post 7

@Oceana - I live in Hawaii, and mongooses were originally introduced to Hawaii and the Caribbean to control rats on the sugarcane plantations. However, mongooses do their thing during the day, and rats are mostly active at night. Therefore, the rodent control did not work quite as planned.

The endangered St. Croix ground lizard is about to be reintroduced to some islands, but officials must first get rid of the mongooses so that the lizard can survive and thrive.

In both Hawaii and Puerto Rico, mongooses cause millions of dollars in damages to the poultry industry. Also in Puerto Rico, the mongoose harbors and spreads leptospirosis and rabies, posing a threat to both animals and humans.

Oceana
Post 6

I have read that mongeese were introduced to the Hawaiian Islands, the Caribbean Islands, and Puerto Rico. I also read that they caused damage. What kinds of animals did they threaten besides mice?

StarJo
Post 5

It’s too bad that mongeese have been banned from our country. I have wanted a meerkat ever since I saw a documentary on them.

I guess it’s best that I don’t own one, for they operate best as pack animals. They live with 20 or 30 others, usually relatives, in the open country of Southern Africa. Though larger animals and birds of prey eat them, they eat smaller birds.

To protect the others from predators while foraging, one Meerkat will climb to a high point to watch for danger. The sound he makes as an alarm will tell the group if the danger is from the ground or from the air. If it’s from the ground, they will all flee, but if it’s from the air, they will run to the closest hole.

seag47
Post 4

I thought from this description that ferrets must be a type of mongoose, but it turns out they are just cousins. I know that ferrets are legal in the United States, so they must not be quite as much of a threat.

summing
Post 3

I lived in Southeast Asia for a while and I have seen the two faced nature of the mongoose. Many people I knew down there kept them as pets.

On the one hand the mongoose is a friendly and cute animal that serves a number of domestic purposes. It killed rats and snakes and played gently with human beings, even children.

But on the other hand I can tell you that there is a very real mongoose menace. They kill small animals indiscriminately and I heard many stories about peoples cats and dogs falling prey to the mongoose. The are also very curious and agile creatures. If you let them into your cupboard the will inevitably rip up everything. So you have to keep your eye on the mongoose, they are not always on your side.

truman12
Post 2

Wow, I knew that the mongoose was a skilled hunter but I never would have imagined that the government would go so far as banning them from the US in order to protect native species. That is a pretty extreme measure when you think about it but it must be backed up with some real science.

I have heard stories of introduced fish that end up destroying the entire aquatic population of a lake. There are also lots of stories about invasive plant species that end up ruining the natural vegetation. Something tells me that the situation with the mongoose is a little different. I can't imagine that the mongoose would kill all small animals and take over our forests. But then again I am not a biologist.

chivebasil
Post 1

As a child I had a stuffed mongoose that I slept with every single night. I just liked the way it looked and felt and never gave much thought to what a real life mongoose was like.

It was only once I got to college and the mongoose happened to come up in class that I learned what a vicious fighter this animal is. What a difference. I thought they were so cute and sweet. Turns out they can bite the head off of a cobra.

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