Herpestes edwardsiIndian gray mongoose

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Geographic Range

Indian gray mongooses (Herpestes edwardsi) occupy coastal area from Arabia to Nepal and downward through Pakistan, India, and Ceylon. (Ewer, 1973)

They were introduced to the West Indies, Hawaii, Jamaica, Cuba and Puerto Rico to control poisonous snakes and rats. ("Mongoose", 1976; Bridges, 1948)

Habitat

Indian gray mongooses have been observed in areas of thickets, in cultivated fields or in broken, bushy vegetation. (Bridges, 1948)

They also occupied open areas, grasslands, and scrub. They sleep in holes in the ground or hollow trees to escape the mid-day sun. (Santiapillai, et al., 2000)

Physical Description

Herpestids have long bodies, short legs and highly developed anal scent glands. Their coats are thick and coarse in texture. Herpestes edwardsi is identified by its silver-grey, salt-and-pepper speckled fur and white-tipped tail. (Santiapillai, et al., 2000)

The head and body are 38 to 46 centimeters long, and the tail is 35 centimeters long. They have 40 teeth. The weight of members of this genus ranges from 0.5 to 4 kg. (Bridges, 1948; Walker, 1975)

Herpestes edwardsi has five toes on fore and hind feet. The hind foot is naked to the heel, but the forefoot has hair to its sharp, curved claws. (Ewer, 1973; Walker, 1975)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range length
    73 to 81 cm
    28.74 to 31.89 in

Reproduction

Shetty et al. (1995) observed mating behavior of Indian gray mongooses in captivity. Social hierarchy was evident, and the dominant male and female were observed and reported to mount more often than subordinate animals. There was no significant change in mounting with females in estrus. (Shetty, et al., 1995)

Herpestes edwardsi reproduces rapidly, with females giving birth to two or three litters per year. Litters typically contain from 2 to 4 young. The gestation period is 60 to 65 days with parturition occurring in May or June and October to December. Females have four to six mammae. ("Mongoose", 1976; Ewer, 1973; Walker, 1975)

  • Breeding interval
    Indian gray mongooses breeds two to three times a year.
  • Breeding season
    Copulation occurs in March, August and October.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 4
  • Range gestation period
    60 to 65 days

There was no information available on parental care in Indian gray mongooses. However, as is the case with all mammals, the female nurses her young. Carnivores are typically born altricial, developing in a nest or den of some type. It is reasonable to assume this is true of H. edwardsi.

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

The longest a mongoose has been known to live is 12.5 years. They generally live about seven years. The greatest threat to a mongoose's survival is the use of toxic agro-chemicals in farming areas. The government has restricted use around protected areas. (Santiapillai, et al., 2000; Walker, 1975)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    7 years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    12 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    7 years

Behavior

Mongooses are terrestrial, diurnal solitary hunters that search during the day and into late evening. They can be seen any time of the day, but Indian gray mongooses is especially active in the early morning and early evening in search of reptiles. They use a quick trot, moving constantly, scanning the area for food. They are rarely seen climbing trees. (Santiapillai, et al., 2000)

This species is known for its behavior in combating snakes. In a fight against a snake, a mongoose utilizes special techniques and adaptations. At first the aggressive mongoose displays its teeth. The snake in turn opens its mouth wide, spreads its hood, and rears back. The cobra strikes time and time again, but the mongoose is able to jump out of reach, weaving and rocking like a boxer. After an hour or so of striking, the snake tires, and the mongoose leaps and attempts to take its first bite. The snake can usually endure the first bite, but the mongoose persists until it is able to hold and crack the cobra's skull. The cobra usually loses because it is unable to strike and retract fast enough to inject its venom. The mongoose would be at a disadvantage against a constrictor or a pitviper. (Carrington and The editors of Life, 1963)

Indian gray mongooses give no respect to the scorpion or its sting. A mongoose will simply pick the scorpion up and throw it repeatedly between its back legs onto a hard surface until it is broken open. Indian gray mongooses use this technique also to break open large eggs. Most mongooses use this technique for breaking open average sized eggs. Because of their larger body, Indian gray mongooses can hold an average sized egg in their paws and bite open the small end of it.

Indian gray mongooses have an unusually broad transverse process on its lumbar vertebrae and a wide sacrum. The modified backbone is thought to help defend the mongoose when it tucks into a ball like a hedgehog. The related Herpestes icheneumon does not use this defense technique and does not have special lumbar vertebrae. (Ewer, 1973)

Home Range

The home range size for this species has not been reported. (Ewer, 1973)

Communication and Perception

Mongooses have an anal sac used in communication. Males spray only during the mating season. Mongooses display an adapted behavior to deposit the spray at nose height on vertical objects. Indian gray mongooses raise one leg, spraying the urine down the object to be marked. In addition, they may spray high on the object by rearing up on the forepaws into a handstand position and ejecting the secretions. The secretions of the scent glands are potent and can radiate a large distance, like that of the skunk Mephitis mephitis. (Ewer, 1973; Walker, 1975)

Food Habits

Indian gray mongooses are opportunistic hunters feeding mainly on mice, rats, lizards, snakes, and beetles. Ground birds, their eggs, and parts of plants: fruits, berries, and roots have become a part of their diet. In India, they have been seen chasing a hare and running away with a cattle egret. In India, the Indian gray mongoose feeds on the eggs and chicks of the red jungle fowl, the peafowl, and the partridges. They have been known to prey in grasslands in search of snakes and small mammals, on beaches in Hawaii, and wading in the water to find food under stones. ("Rajaji National Park", 2000; Postanowicz, 2002; Santiapillai, et al., 2000; Whitfield, 1978)

They have also been known to prey on grasshoppers, scorpions, centipedes, frogs, crabs, and fish. The mongoose has an elongated skull with specialized teeth for hunting. The incisors form a cutting edge at the front of the mouth, the canines point and protrude allowing it to clamp onto a snake's head, and the molars have pointed cusps for crushing insects. (Whitfield, 1978)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • fish
  • eggs
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • Plant Foods
  • roots and tubers
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

Predation

Between hunts, Indian gray mongooses retreat to their burrow, crevices in rocks, or nearby rivers to escape the heat and obtain protection from their largest predator, leopards (Panthera pardus). (Santiapillai, et al., 2000)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

In their natural environment, Indian grey mongooses prey on ground birds, reptiles, small mammals, and insects. They are therefore likely to affect populations of these animals. Their ability to prey on snakes has been well noted, and they have been introduced to many areas for that purpose. (Santiapillai, et al., 2000)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

As people found out that mongooses were rat and snake killers, they were domesticated to control rats, mice and snakes in and around houses. (Whitfield, 1978)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • research and education
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

They are uncontrollable and are considered pests outside their natural environment; they are not welcome in many countries. This species was introduced to the West Indies and islands around the United States to get rid of poisonous snakes and rats. They became a pest when they fed on birds and small mammals instead of unwanted animals. Because of the potential pest problem, importation of some species is forbidden in the United States by federal statute. ("Mongoose", 1976; Bridges, 1948; Walker, 1975; Whitfield, 1978)

Indian gray mongooses have been known to carry Toxoplasma gondii, a worldwide zoonotic obligate intracellular protozoan that exists as tachyzoites, tissue cysts, and oocysts. It is the most common infectious protozoan parasite transmitted from non-humans to humans. (Dakhil and Morsy, 1996)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • carries human disease
  • household pest

Conservation Status

According to Santiapillai (2000), who studied the status of three species of herpestids in Ruhuna National Park, Sri Lanka, Indian gray mongooses have the lowest density of 0.2 per sq. km while the other two species had densities of 2.6 and 0.7. Similar studies in Wilpattu National Park in northwest Sri Lanka found that Herpestes fuscus, not H. edwardsi was the least common in that park. Population studies have been done to check the necessity of conservation and see what can be done to sustain species. Because of the results of studies, the three species of mongoose (Herpestes smithii, H. edwardsi, and Herpestes vitticollis) are protected in Sri Lanka. Their greatest threat is human use of toxic agro-chemicals in farming areas. The government has restricted use around protected areas. (Santiapillai, et al., 2000)

Other Comments

In all Asian Herpestes species, males have one less chromosome than females: 2n=35 in males and 2n=36 in females. Herpestes is considered by some to be the least modified from the ancestral miacid-type carnivore from which viverrids and herpestids are derived. (Santiapillai, et al., 2000)

Contributors

Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Ellen Graham (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Chris Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Glossary

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

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Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

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acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

fossorial

Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.

introduced

referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

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pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

1976. Mongoose. Pp. 604 in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 13. Chicago, IL: Field Enterprise Educational Corporation.

2000. "Rajaji National Park" (On-line image). Animals and Vegetation: Mammals. Accessed 12/05/02 at http://www.rajajinationalpark.com/mammals/.

Bridges, W. 1948. Wild Animals of the World. Garden City, NY: Garden City Books.

Carrington, R., The editors of Life. 1963. The Mammals. New York, NY: Time Incorporated.

Dakhil, M., T. Morsy. 1996. Natural toxoplasma infection sought in the Indian grey mongoose (H. edwardsii, Greffroy, 1818) trapped in the eastern region, Saudi Arabia. Journal of the Egyptian Society of Parasitology, 26/3: 645-652.

Ewer, R. F. 1973. The Carnivores. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Postanowicz, R. 2002. "Indian Grey Moongoose" (On-line). Lioncrusher's Domain. Accessed December 05, 2002 at http://www.lioncrusher.com/animal.asp?animal=140.

Santiapillai, C., M. De Silva, S. Dissanayake. 2000. The status of mongooses (family: Herpestidae) in Ruhuna National Park, Sri Lanka. The Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 97: 208-214.

Shetty, J., G. Shetty, S. Kanakaraj. 1995. Mating behavior of the Indian grey mongoose Herpestes edwardsii edwardsii Geoffroy. The Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 92: 26-29.

Walker, E. 1975. Mammals of the World; 3rd Edition vol. 3. Baltimore, Maryland: Hopkins University Press.

Whitfield, P. 1978. The Hunters. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.