Herpestes ichneumonEgyptian mongoose

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Geographic Range

Herpestes ichneumon is distributed in Spain, Portugal, Israel, and most of Africa except for central Zaire, the West African lowland forests and southeastern South Africa. It was introduced to Madagascar and Italy (Hinton and Dunn, 1967).

Habitat

Egyptian mongooses are ground inhabitants who prefer regions with trees near water. They hide and find shelter in burrows, hollow logs or trees, holes in the ground, and rock crevices, especially during the night. Today their habitat also includes cultivated fields and vegetated canal banks (Osborn, 1998).

Physical Description

Egyptian mongooses are unassuming creatures with their long-haired, grey coats dotted with brownish speckles; sometimes, the coat is reddish brown with yellow speckles but this is infrequent. A narrow, naked strip of skin surrounds the eyes. Their slender body stands out in sharp contrast to the long, bushy tail, which ends in a black tassel. They have a long, low-slung form which appears reptilian from a distance. The body length is 48 to 60 cm with the tail measuring 33 to 54 cm. They have a long face, small rounded ears which don't project above the head, short legs with five digits on each limb, hind feet which are naked to the heel and foreclaws that are sharp and curved for digging. Another very important feature is the existence of large anal sac containing two glandular openings. These animals have 35 to 40 teeth of which the carnassal are well developed for sheering flesh. If excited, H. ichneumon can bristle its hair and arch its back to appear two times its actual size. (Hayssen, 1993; Kingdon, 1977; Osborn, 1998)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    1.7 to 4 kg
    3.74 to 8.81 lb
  • Range length
    48 to 60 cm
    18.90 to 23.62 in

Reproduction

Gerti Ducker described a period of foreplay before the animals mate. Mating lasts for almost five minutes. During this time, the male knocks the female's neck with his mouth wide open. The male always pursues the female. He makes a noise which the female then repeats. The females then squats and runs, this seduces the male (Hinton and Dunn, 1967).

Egyptian mongooses reach sexual maturity at around 2 years of age. When ready to mate the female's vulva becomes swollen and red. Females can actually come into heat shortly after giving birth--as little as ten days. While giving birth, females stand up with their legs slightly bent. Gestation is approximately 11 weeks and litters range from 2 to 4 young which are born in July or August in Spain (Hinton and Dunn, 1967).

  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 4
  • Average number of offspring
    3
    AnAge
  • Average gestation period
    1-2 months
  • Average gestation period
    74 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    730 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    730 days
    AnAge

At birth, Egyptian mongooses are blind and have fur. Around 6 to 8 weeks they first open their eyes (Hayssen, 1993).

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

One particular mongoose in captivity lived over 20 years, although that is rare. In the wild they live approximately 12 years (Novak, 1991).

Behavior

Little is known about the behavior of H. ichneumon. It is said to be everything from a solitary creature to living in pairs to tending to hunt in pacts. Some scientists say they have active social lives but there is little documentation for this. A two year study of Egyptian mongooses in Donana National Park found the average group size to be anywhere from one to seven. Adults were spotted in pairs or living alone all year long. Environmental pressures, mainly food, prevented large stable groups. In general these animals are alert and agile. They are diurnal and are said to be very playful. However, in the wild they have also been described as extremely vicious. If they are young enough they can be tamed and may have even have been house pets before cats. They will quickly enter water and swim well. They love to bask in the morning sun. The glands near the anus have a peculiar use; when one animal follows another, it has its nose on the anus of the leader for orientation. This behavior originates when young mongooses closely follow their mothers. Scent markings with these same anal glands could communicate a female's estrous condition and/or act as a marker for an individual or a pack. The instinct to chase an anal scent is so strong that when alone, an individual may put its nose under its own tail (Kingdon, 1977; Osborn, 1998; Palomares and Delibes, 1993).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Meals consist of invertebrates, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Sometimes, H. ichneumon even dines on fruit. Eggs are a favored delicacy. In fact, The Egyptian mongooses came by their scientific name because the animal was believed to track down crocodile eggs. Whether or not that is true is still unknown. Mongooses have an interesting way of eating eggs: they throw them through their hind legs against something hard like a rock or wall. Also, like their famous relatives, Small Indian Mongooses, Herpestes javanicus, which starred in Kipling's Rikki Tikki Tavi, Ichneumons have a reputation for snake killing. It is commonly believed that mongooses are immune to snake poisons, but this is not so. They are described as having "lightning-fast reflexes," and they erect all the hair on their bodies when on the attack. This is thought to confuse the reptile. With quick and skillful movement, they seize it from behind the head. They don't actually chase their prey but merely encounter it after continuous exploratory walking; then with one speedy strike, make the kill. They can defend themselves from snakes as well. Egyptian Mongooses have the ability to predict and dodge the strike of a snake attack and then catch the snakes head before another strike (Kingdon, 1977; Osborn, 1998).

These mongooses also hunt insects. They place their noses to the earth sniffing until they smell an insect and then they either snatch it up as the unsuspecting bug meanders along above ground or dig it out from below the dirt.

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit

Ecosystem Roles

Egyptian mongooses have a large impact on their prey populations, including snakes and rodents.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Member of this species are very well-known for their ability to catch creatures that are pests to humans. Egyptian mongooses are important in eliminating rats, mice, and especially snakes. They have been introduced to places in hopes of keeping local pest populations in check (Osborn, 1998).

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Along with controlling local pests, H. ichneumon is capable of killing harmless birds and mammals and other desirable wildlife. This has lead to the extinction and endangerment of some species. They are also a serious pest to chicken farmers. Egyptian mongooses have decimated enough species that the importation and possession of these mongooses is forbidden in some countries (Novak, 1991).

Conservation Status

With a wide distribution and high population, the Egyptian mongoose is in no trouble of becoming endangered. In fact, in most mongoose populations, they are the most abundant carnivores living in an area.

Other Comments

Egyptian mongooses have been immortalized in Egyptian paintings going back to around 300 B.C. It was known as the "Pharaoh's Cat" and was considered a holy animal. They were housed in temples and were put as gladiators in arenas to dual with snakes. Skulls of these animals were found in tombs and also mummified remains have been discovered. Legend has it that before a snake hunt they rolled in mud several times and allowed each layer to dry, thus forming a protective shield. They were also the object of many myths because of their talent of "sneaking around" and robbing nests. Human children were the items kidnapped in these tales. Eventually, probably out of respect for their deceptiveness, these mongooses became sacred to the Egyptian people (Osborn, 1998; Minnesota State University, 2001).

Contributors

LeeAnn Bies (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Cynthia Sims Parr (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

Palearctic

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

World Map

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.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

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

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

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.

sexual

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

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.

viviparous

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

References

Hayssen, A. 1993. Asdell's patterns of mammalian reproduction. Cornell University: Comstock Publishing Company.

Hinton, H., A. Dunn. 1967. Mongooses: Their Natural History and Behavior. Edinburgh and London: Oliver and Boyd LTD.

Kingdon, J. 1977. East African Mammals. New York, New York: Academic Press Inc..

Minnestoa State University, "Other Animals of Egypt" (On-line). Accessed October 15, 2001 at http://www.anthro.mnsu.edu/cultural/ethnoarchaeology/ethnozoology/eotheranim.html.

Novak, R. 1991. "Walker's Mammals of the World: Mongooses" (On-line).

Osborn, D. 1998. The Mammals of Ancient Egypt. Warminster: Aris and Phillips Ltd..

Palomares, F., M. Delibes. May 1, 1993. Social organization in the Egyptian mongoose: group size, spatial behaviour and inter-individual contacts in adults. Animal Behaviour, 45: 917-925.

Smith, S. 1985. The Atlas of Africa's Principal Mammals. South Africa: Natural History Books.