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Mongoose

Herpestidae

Photo: A mongoose

Photo: A mongoose (View larger version)

Photograph by Nicole Duplaix

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Mongooses are primarily found in Africa, their range covering most of the continent. Some species occupy parts of southern Asia and the Iberian Peninsula. They are generally terrestrial mammals, but some are semi-aquatic, and others are at home in the treetops.

Ranging in size from the 7-inch-long (18-centimeter-long) dwarf mongoose to the 2-foot-long (60-centimeter-long) Egyptian mongoose; these sleek mammals have long bodies with short legs and tapered snouts.

They normally have brown or gray grizzled fur, and a number of species sport striped coats or ringed tails.

Mongooses live in burrows and are nondiscriminatory predators, feeding on small animals such as rodents, birds, reptiles, frogs, insects, andworms. Some species supplement their diet with fruits, nuts, and seeds. Creative hunters, they are known to break open bird eggs by throwing them with their forepaws toward a solid object.

Famously, some species of mongoose will boldly attack venomous snakes such as cobras. The most celebrated of these is Rudyard Kipling’s fictional Rikki-tikki-tavi, based on an ancient fable and included in The Jungle Book.

In the 1800s mongooses were introduced to several islands in Hawaii and the West Indies in order to control the rodent populations on sugarcane plantations. Today this effort has come back to haunt these islands as mongooses threaten the survival of various native species, particularly birds. However, in their natural environments mongooses are currently threatened themselves due to habitat loss.

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