Cynictis penicillatayellow mongoose

Geographic Range

The yellow mongoose is endemic to and widely distributed throughout Southern Africa. Highly populated areas include Namibia, Botswana, the Orange Free State, northwestern Natal, western Transvaal, Zimbabwe, and throughout the Cape Providence (Taylor and Meester, 1993).


The yellow mongoose prefers semi-arid, open habitats (grasslands, scrub, and semi-desert scrub) and is almost entirely absent from desert, forest, and montane habitats (Taylor and Meester, 1993).

Physical Description

As many as 12 subspecies of yellow mongoose have been recognized in the past, distinguished predominantly by color, size, and length of hair and tail (Skinner and Smithers 1990). There is a zone of rapid geographic change which separates individuals from northern Nambia, Botswana and northern Transvaal from individuals in the south. Individuals between these two areas may be intermediate in traits. This creates clinal variation, making the distinction between subspecies impossible (Skinner and Smithers 1990). Variation may be genetic or may be due to the amount and intensity of sunlight at a given location (Taylor et al. 1990). Southern specimens (South Africa, Namibia) are usually larger with tawny-yellowish pelage whereas northern individuals (Botswana) are smaller with a grizzled, greyish-yellow coat. This grizzled appearance results from contrasting, alternating black (eumelanin) and pale yellow (phaeomelanin) bands in individual guard hairs (Taylor and Meester 1993). Seasonal variation in pelage color has been seen in southern specimens, but not so much in specimens from the north (Taylor et al. 1990). Southern specimens of the yellow mongoose have long, white-tipped tails and long-haired coats whereas northern individuals have shorter hair and possess a shorter tail without a white tip (Skinner and Smithers 1990). In all yellow mongoose specimens, the longest hair is found in the tail. This bushy tail, and relatively large, rounded ears gives the yellow mongoose a fox-like appearance.

Five digits are present on the forefeet and four on the hindfeet of the yellow mongoose. The first digit in the forefoot is raised above the rest of the digits and it does not make an impression in the spoor (Taylor and Meester 1993). The palm is basically naked in the forefeet and hairy in the hindfeet. Claws are longer in the forefeet than the hindfeet.

The yellow mongoose is smaller than most other mongooses. Within the same geographic region, there is no body size differences between males and females.

The yellow mongoose possesses a glandular anal sac that contains a milky fluid with a sour, cheesy smell (Taylor and Meester 1993).

  • Average mass
    598.5 g
    21.09 oz


Many individuals of the yellow mongoose begin mating in the first week of July. Copulation lasts for about 30-60 seconds, during which the male makes a soft purring sound while the female bites or licks the male's ears and neck continuously (Taylor and Meester 1990). The gestation period varies between 42 and 57 days. The birth season is estimated to occur from August to November, possibly extending into January. The reproductive season might be more prolonged in northern specimens of the yellow mongoose (Taylor and Meester 1993). Young are born in clean chambers in the burrows which are devoid of bedding material. The mean litter size is 1.8 young per litter. Females have three pairs of abdominal mammae (Skinner and Smithers 1990).

Weaning takes place at about 10 weeks of age. It is not known if the male participates in the feeding and caring of the young. It is believed that males and females are not capable of reproducing until at least one year of age (Taylor and Meester 1993).

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    56 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    730 days



The yellow mongoose is primarily diurnal, spending most of its day foraging, although it is sometimes active at night. These mongooses are known to rest or sunbathe outside of their dens before beginning to feed and travel (Cavallini 1993a). Time of the start of activity is positively correlated to sunrise time, mist hours, and weather conditions. Time of activity cessation is positively correlated to sunset time and maximum temperature, and negatively correlated to windspeed (Cavallini 1993a). The yellow mongoose occupies permanent burrows which it often cohabits with ground squirrels and suricates although it is capable of making very complex burrows (Taylor and Meester 1993). Burrows are a thermoregulatory advantage since the microenvironment is buffered against extremes (Skinner and Smithers 1990).

The yellow mongoose is a social species. Colonies are usually centered around a family group consisting of a male and a female, their youngest offspring, and other individuals consisting of subadults, very old adults, or individuals with some sort of association to the group (Taylor and Meester 1993).

Male home ranges often overlap and are larger than those of females (Cavallini 1993b). This suggests that the social units of the yellow mongoose may be more complex than a simple family unit. Females from different dens have contiguous but nonoverlapping ranges suggesting some territorality may exist (Cavallini 1993b).

The yellow mongoose is a quiet animal though it is known to scream (during fights), growl (if threatened), bark, and purr. It is believed that the tail may be used in communication (Taylor and Meester 1993).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The yellow mongoose is primarily insectivorous, although it opportunistically feeds on vertebrate prey. Carrion has also been utilized as a food source (Skinner and Smithers 1990). Stomach analyses of mongooses from several yellow mongoose populations have found many different organisms including beetles (adult and larval forms), termites, locusts, caterpillars, ants, mice, birds, grass, seeds, reptiles, and amphibians (Taylor and Meester, 1993). The yellow mongoose has also been known to take hen's eggs and free-ranging chickens.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

May help control harmful species of insects and rodents.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Yellow mongooses are regarded as the most important rabies vectors on the central plateau of South Africa (Penzhorn and Chaparro 1994). The geographical incidence of this disease corresponds closely with the distribution of the species. The prevalence of rabies in the yellow mongoose is attributed to their abundance in certain areas and their burrow-dwelling habit. Living in burrows brings individuals into close proximity, thereby increasing the chances of transmitting the virus. There is a high correlation between the seasonal incidence of rabies and the breeding cycle of the yellow mongoose (Taylor and Meester 1993). Many farmers feel that the yellow mongoose is a danger and a pest to themselves and their livestock. Many methods of extermination have been attempted to decrease the number of possible carriers. These methods included sealing and gassing burrows with cyanide gas, phospine, carbon monoxide, or carbon dioxide followed by setting traps for possible survivors (Taylor and Meester 1993).

Conservation Status



Jessica E. Light (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



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

World Map

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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


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.


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.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.


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


uses touch to communicate

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.


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.


Cavallini, P. 1993a. Activity of the Yellow mongoose <i>Cynictis penicillata</i> in a coastal area. Z. Saugertierkunde. 58: 281-285.

Cavallini, P. 1993b. Spatial organization of the yellow mongoose <i>Cynictis penicillata</i> in a coastal area. Ethology, Ecology, and Evolution. 5: 501-509.

Penzhorn, B.L. and F. Chaparro. 1994. Prevalence of <i>Babesia cyniciti</i> in Three Populations of Yellow Mongoose (<i>Cynictis penicillata</i>) in the Transvaal, South Africa. Journal of Wildlife Diseases. 30(4): 557-559.

Skinner, J.D. and R.H.N. Smithers. 1990. The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. University of Ptetoria, Ptetoria. Republic of South Africa.

Taylor, P.J., Meester, J., and I.L. Rautenbach. 1990. A Quantitative Analysis of Geographic Colour Variation in the Yellow Mongoose <i>Cynictis penicillata</i> (Cuvier, 1829) (Mammalia: Viverridae) in Southern Africa. Annals of the Transvaal Museum. 35(11): 177-197.

Taylor, P.J. and J. Meester. 1993. Mammalian Species No. 432. The American Society of Mammalogists.