File:Dwarf mongoose Korkeasaari zoo.jpg
Common dwarf mongoose
Helogale parvula
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Herpestidae
Bonaparte, 1845
Type genus
Illiger, 1811
  • Cynictidae Cope, 1882
  • Herpestoidei Winge, 1895
  • Mongotidae Pocock, 1920
  • Rhinogalidae Gray, 1869
  • Suricatidae Cope, 1882
  • Suricatinae Thomas, 1882

Mongoose is the popular English name for 29 of 34[2] species in the 14 genera of the family Herpestidae, which are small carnivorans that are native to southern Eurasia and mainland Africa. The other five species in the family are the four kusimanses in the genus Crossarchus, and the only species in the genus Suricata: Suricata suricatta, commonly called meerkat in English.

Six species in family Eupleridae, endemic to the island of Madagascar, are also called "mongoose" and were originally classified as a genus within the Herpestidae family, but genetic evidence has shown that they are more closely related to other Madagascar carnivorans in the family Eupleridae, so since 2006 they are classified as the subfamily Galidiinae within that family.

Herpestidae belong to the suborder Feliformia, together with the cat, hyena and civet families.


File:Yellow Mongoose 1 (6964624854).jpg

Yellow mongoose, Cynictis penicillata

The word "mongoose" is derived from the Marathi name mungūs (मुंगूस) (pronounced as [muŋɡuːs]), perhaps ultimately from Dravidian (cf. Telugu mungisa (ముంగిస), Kannada mungusi (ಮುಂಗುಸಿ)). The form of the English name (since 1698) was altered to its "-goose" ending by folk-etymology.[3] It has no etymological connection with the word goose. The plural form is mongooses,[4] or, rarely, mongeese.[5] Historically, it has also been spelled "mungoose".[6]



Yellow mongoose

Mongooses live in southern Asia, Africa, and southern Europe, as well in Puerto Rico and some Caribbean and Hawaiian islands, where they are an introduced species.

There are 33 species, ranging from 24 to 58 cm (9.4 to 22.8 in) in length, excluding the tail.[7] 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).[7]

Some species lead predominantly solitary lives, seeking out food only for themselves, while others travel in groups, sharing food among group members and offspring.


File:Animales bioparc-valencia-2012 (13).JPG

Meerkat (Suricata suricatta)

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; 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: Template:DentalFormula.

Mongooses also have receptors for acetylcholine that, like the receptors in snakes, are shaped so it is impossible for snake neurotoxin venom to attach to them. Researchers are investigating whether similar mechanisms protect the mongoose from hemotoxic snake venoms.[8]


Herpestes lemanensis skull from the Oligocene, Muséum national d'histoire naturelle, Paris

Life history

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.[9]


File:Brown Mongoose.jpg

Indian brown mongoose, Herpestes fuscus

Mongooses mostly feed on insects, crabs, earthworms, lizards, snakes, birds, and rodents. However, they also eat eggs and carrion.

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 acetylcholine receptors, which render them resistant or immune to snake venom.[10] However, they typically avoid the cobra and have no particular affinity for consuming its meat.[11]

Some species can learn simple tricks. They can be 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 and snakes, 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,[12] Australia, and other countries. Mongooses were introduced to Hawaii in 1883 and have had a significant negative effect on native species.[13]


The mongoose emits a high-pitched noise, commonly known as giggling, when it mates. Giggling is also heard during courtship.[14] Communities of female banded mongooses (Mungos mungo) synchronize their childbearing to the same day in order to deter infanticide by dominant females.[15]

Relationship with humans

File:Banded Mongoose.jpg

Banded mongoose, Mungos mungo

File:Ruddy mongoose.jpg

Ruddy mongoose, Herpestes smithii

File:Yellow Mongoose.JPG

Yellow mongoose

File:Black mongoose waterberg.jpg

Black mongoose, Galerella nigrata

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 the highly venomous habu 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. [16]

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.[citation needed] The Buddhist god of wealth Vaiśravaṇa, or Dzambala for Tibetans, is frequently depicted holding a mongoose that is spitting jewels from its mouth.[citation needed]

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.[17]

In popular culture

A well-known fictional mongoose is Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, who appears in a short story of the same title in The Jungle Book (1894) by Rudyard Kipling. In this tale set in India, the young mongoose saves his family from a krait and from Nag and Nagaina, two cobras. The story was later made into several films, and also a song by Donovan, among other references. A mongoose also features in Bram Stoker's novel, The Lair of the White Worm. The main character, Adam Salton, purchases one to independently hunt snakes. Game Freak's Pokémon franchise has a Pokémon named Zangoose that is based on and named after the mongoose.

As noted earlier, the mongoose is a prohibited animal in the United States (with the exception of Hawai‘i). However, an exception was made in the 1963 case of "Mr. Magoo", a mongoose brought to the Minnesota port of Duluth by a merchant seaman. Mr. Magoo, as the animal was to become known, faced being euthanized but a public campaign resulted in the intervention of Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, who exempted Magoo from the regulations. Magoo lived out his days on display as the most popular attraction of the Duluth Zoo, dying of old age in 1968.[18]


File:Helogale parvula, Serengeti.jpg

Common dwarf mongoose

Like other feliformian carnivorans, mongooses descended from the viverravines, which were civet- or genet-like mammals. Older classifications sometimes placed mongooses in the family Viverridae, but both morphological and molecular evidence speaks against the monophyly of this group, though they do have the same basic dental formula as the viverrids. Mongooses also have characteristic behavioral features that distinguish them from viverrids and other feliformian families. Less diverse than the viverrids, the mongoose family includes 14 genera and 33 species.

Mongooses are related to the other feliformian families, including Hyaenidae (hyenas), Viverridae (civets) and Felidae (cats). They are more distantly related to the caniformian carnivorans, including the family Mustelidae, which contains weasels, badgers and otters.

Genetic evidence indicates the family Eupleridae is the closest living group to mongooses. The Eupleridae contain the fossa and the other smaller Malagasy carnivorans.

Genetic evidence from several nuclear and mitochondrial genes argues against placing Malagasy galidiines in the mongoose family; instead, these species are more closely related to other Madagascar carnivorans, including the fossa and Malagasy civet.[19][20] As a result, this subfamily was moved from Herpestidae to Eupleridae.


The Sokoke bushy-tailed mongoose, Bdeogale omnivora,[21] has not been included in the above list as many authorities consider it to be a sub-species of the bushy-tailed mongoose, Bdeogale crassicauda.[1]


For pictures of mongooses on Madagascar, see Galidiinae


  1. ^ a b Template:MSW3 Carnivora
  2. ^ Vaughan, Terry A.; James M. Ryan; Nicholas J. Czaplewski (2010). Mammalogy. Jones & Bartlett Learning. p. 300. ISBN 0-7637-6299-7
  3. ^ Forsyth, Mark (2012). The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language. Penguin. ISBN 1101611766. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  4. ^ " mongoose". Retrieved 2008-08-22. 
  5. ^ "Merriam-Webster: mongoose". Retrieved 2006-04-12. 
  6. ^ Lydekker, R. 1894. A hand-book to the Carnivora. Part 1, Cats, civets, and mungooses. London: Allen.
  7. ^ a b Macdonald, D., ed. (2009). The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 660. ISBN 978-0-19-956799-7. 
  8. ^ Hedges, Stephen. "Science: Mongoose's secret is to copy its prey"; New Scientist; 11 January 1997. Retrieved 16 November 2007.
  9. ^ "Animal Diversity Web: Herpestes ichneumon". Retrieved 2006-04-12. 
  10. ^ "How the Mongoose Defeats the Snake". Retrieved 2010-10-25. 
  11. ^ Mondadori, Arnoldo, ed. (1988). Great Book of the Animal Kingdom. New York: Arch Cape Press. p. 301. 
  12. ^ "Animals whose importation is banned under the Lacey Act". Retrieved 2006-04-12. 
  13. ^ "Star Bulletin: Traps set to catch mongoose on Kauai". Retrieved 2006-04-12. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Marshall, Tom. "Mongoose teamwork hides darker side". Retrieved 24 February 2014. 
  16. ^ Charles, Bill. "Okinawa World Presents Midsummer Thrills." Japan Update. 24 August 2012. .
  17. ^ "Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 2003 - Schedule 2 Prohibited new organisms". New Zealand Government. Retrieved 26 January 2012. 
  18. ^ Remembering Duluth's famous mongoose, Mr. Magoo, by Andrew Krueger at the Duluth News Tribune (via; published November 30, 2010; retrieved July 27, 2014
  19. ^ Yoder, A. D.; Zehr, Sarah; Delefosse, Thomas; Veron, Geraldine; Goodman, Steven M.; Flynn, John J.; et al. (2003). "Single origin of Malagasy Carnivora from an African ancestor". Nature. 421 (6924): 434–437. PMID 12610623. doi:10.1038/nature01303. 
  20. ^ Flynn, J. J.; 2, JA; Zehr, S; 3, J; Nedbal, MA (2005). "Molecular Phylogeny of the Carnivora (Mammalia): Assessing the Impact of Increased Sampling on Resolving Enigmatic Relationships". Systematic Biology. 54 (2): 317–337. PMID 16012099. doi:10.1080/10635150590923326. 
  21. ^ IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Bdeogale omnivora

Further reading

  • Rasa, Anne (1986). Mongoose Watch: A Family Observed. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday & Co. ISBN 9780385231756. OCLC 12664019.  Translation of Die perfekte Familie.
  • Hinton, H. E. & Dunn, A. M. S. (1967). Mongooses: Their Natural History and Behaviour. Berkeley: University of California Press. OCLC 1975837. 

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