The mongoose is a petite but voracious carnivore found in much of Africa and parts of Asia. There are over 30 different species of mongooses -- including the popular meerkat -- all with long, lean bodies and pointed snouts. Some species lead solitary lives, while others engage in communal behaviors, benefiting from group defense and foraging. Their diets are richly varied and mongooses are known for their hunting skills.
All species of mongoose are long and thin, somewhat similar to weasels, with short legs and pointed snouts. The smallest species of African mongoose -- the dwarf mongoose -- is just 7 inches in length, while the Egyptian mongoose is the largest at nearly 2 feet. Their tails are long as well, measuring from 6 to 21 inches. A mongoose’s fur coloration also varies by species, with some solid brown or gray and some with stripes on their bodies, like the banded mongoose, or tails, like the Malagasy ring-tailed mongoose.
Some species of mongoose, such as the meerkat and the banded mongoose, live in large social groups of up to 30 or 40 individuals. These mongooses use social behaviors and hierarchies to breed, defend themselves and improve their hunting capacity. Other mongooses, like the Egyptian and Malagasy ring-tailed, live in pairs, small families or alone. All mongooses are known to be creative in hunting prey, and many are quite bold.
Mongooses inhabit most of the African continent as well as much of southern Asia, typically enjoying hot, desert climates. To keep cool, desert-dwelling mongooses like the meerkat and banded mongoose live in burrows or dens, emerging at daybreak but resting during the hottest part of the day. Select species prefer a wetter climate, such as the Malagasy ring-tailed mongoose, which inhabits the forests of Madagascar in vast numbers.
For their diminutive size, mongooses are hearty predators with creative, often bold, hunting skills. Most species eat rodents, reptiles and frogs, birds and insects, and some will supplement their primarily carnivorous diet with fruit or other plant material. The dwarf mongoose, with its particularly small size, eats primarily insects and spiders, while larger species, like the Egyptian mongoose, subsist on bigger prey including birds and mammals. Though mongooses are famously known to attack venomous snakes, such attacks are defensive and such snakes are not typically part of the mongoose diet.
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E. Anne Hunter has more than a decade of experience in education, with a focus on visual design and instructional technology. She holds a master's degree in education. Hunter has contributed to several professional publications, covering education, design, music and fitness, among other topics.