The mongoose (Herpestidae) is a family of placental mammals native to continental Africa and Eurasia. Its body can measure from 18 to 60 centimeters and the tail is almost the same length as this. The coat has a uniform brown or grayish coloration, although some species have it striped.
The Indian gray mongoose ( Herpestes Edwardsii ) and the Egyptian mongoose ( Herpestes ichneumon ) are known for their ability to fight poisonous snakes to death, and later devour them.
These species have developed resistance to the poison. This is because its body, evolutionarily, suffered genetic mutations that allow it to withstand up to 13 times the lethal dose for any other mammal of its size.
Although in general the Herpestidae family does not show significant decreases in its population, the IUCN has classified 17 species at low risk of extinction. These include Herpestes javanicus, Herpestes brachyurus, Herpestes ichneumon, and Herpestes semitorquatus .
The main threat to these mongooses is the fragmentation of their natural habitat. Forests and jungles have been deforested and degraded by man, who cuts down the trees and converts the land into areas for cultivation and human settlement.
The mongoose can measure, without taking into account the tail, from 18 centimeters, which corresponds to the dwarf mongoose, up to 60 centimeters in length, of the Egyptian mongoose. In terms of weight, it could vary from 320 grams to 5 kilograms.
The body is thin and long, with short limbs. On each leg they can have 4 or 5 fingers, depending on the species. The claws are sharp and non-retractable, being used mainly for digging.
Most herpestids have a flattened skull with a lacerated foramen. The head is small and the muzzle is pointed. The ears are rounded and small. In relation to the eyes, they have horizontal pupils.
The auditory ampulla is located perpendicular to the axis of the skull. As for the ecto tympanic element, it is expanded and is equal to or larger than the ento tympanic part.
The carnassial teeth are well developed, highlighting the upper third premolar, which has an internal cusp, which varies according to the species. Two of the lower incisors may be slightly higher than the rest of these teeth.
The coat is generally thick and brown or gray in color. These shades allow it to go unnoticed on the ground, thus camouflaging itself from predators.
Some species, such as those of the genus Mungos and Suricata, have striped coats. Others have ringed tails, such as the ring-tailed mongoose ( Galidia elegans ).
Unlike genets and civets, mongooses do not have perineal civeton glands. However, they have a highly developed anal pouch, which has two glandular openings.
This organic structure secretes a substance with an unpleasant odor, which is used to mark the territory and as part of the communication in the reproductive process.
Genetically, the mongoose has mutations in the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, which act on the action of α-neurotoxin, contained in the venom of snakes.
The active ingredient in snake venom is alpha-neurotoxin. It works by attaching itself to acetylcholine receptors, which are found on the surface area of muscle cells.
These receptors receive the nerve impulses that relax or contract the muscles. However, alpha-neurotoxin blocks these messages, so the animal is paralyzed and dies.
Acetylcholine receptors in snakes and mongoose have particular characteristics, since they are capable of transferring the message to the muscle, so the venom does not affect these animals.
Previously, the mongoose was considered a member of the Viverridae family, to which the civet and the genet belong, among others. However, it is now recognized as a separate family, the Herpestidae. This is made up of 14 genera and about 41 species.
Among the herpestes there are physical variations, however, those originating from Madagascar arose from an African ancestor, between 24 and 18 million years ago. In Asia and Africa, the evolution of this family may have been limited by competition with other carnivores that dominated the habitat.
As a result, mongoose radiation on these continents involved various specializations and adaptations in habitat, diet, and morphology.
The oldest African evidence was found in Chad, and corresponds to the late Miocene. The fossil material consists of fragmented dentitions of three species. The main characteristic of these Chadian animals is the extensive development of the jaw, typical of carnivores.
They were smaller than current mongooses, in addition, the carnassial teeth were more elongated and the fourth molar smaller. According to specialists, the fossil corresponds to Galerella sanguinea , which is why it represents the oldest extinct record of the Herpestidae family.
The Indian mongoose marks its territory when it rubs the anal pouch against objects. This smell can be perceived by other members of the family and allows you to distinguish them. This species has a repertoire of up to twelve vocalizations, including squawking, crying, screaming and grunting, among others.
It is a fundamentally terrestrial animal, being able to move walking, trotting or galloping. However, it can climb trees, mainly in search of food.
Herpestidae are usually solitary, although others may live in groups or carry out activities in the company of others. Clusters may differ in structure, in spatial cohesion, and in the way the young are raised.
For example, while in the slender mongoose the female raises her offspring alone, in other species the members of the group help in the rearing.
As for the duration of social relations, it is variable. Thus, the slender mongooses are not kept together long enough for them to cooperatively raise the young.
In contrast, pairs of yellow mongoose may rejoin each year and their young remain in their den for more than one breeding season.
Habitat and distribution
The vast majority of mongooses are African, distributed throughout the continent, with the exception of the Sahara. The genus Herpestes inhabits Asia, from Borneo and the Philippines to Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, India, southern China, and Arabia. He also lives in Portugal and southern Spain. In turn, the Galidiinae is located in Madagascar.
As for the indica mongoose ( Herpestes javanicus ), it was introduced in the 19th century in Hawaii, Fiji and on some islands in the West Indies. The purpose of this action was to control the rat populations that were wreaking havoc on the sugar cane plantations.
However, currently in this region, the mongoose is considered a pest, since its non-specialized diet has made it a threat to some reptiles and birds in the area.
Most of the mongooses are terrestrial. However, the Bengali water mongoose ( Herpestes palustris ), the ring-tailed mongoose ( Galidia elegans ), and the marsh mongoose ( Atilax paludinosus ) are semi-aquatic. Likewise, the thin mongoose (Herpestes sanguinus), despite spending a long time on the ground, frequently climbs trees to find food.
Members of the Herpestidae family thrive in a wide variety of ecotypes, from jungles to deserts. Thus, they live in open forests, thickets, savannas, dense forests and semi-desert areas.
Each species can occupy a specific habitat. For example, the Liberian mongoose ( Liberiictis kuhni ), is found in the interior of the rainforest, while the Galidiinae of Madagascar is found in rainforests, thorny deserts and dry forests.
In addition, the bushy-tailed mongoose prefers lowland forests, close to rivers, and the Gambian inhabits coastal scrub, grasslands and forests.
These placental mammals live in burrows of birth and rest, which are built in hollows in trees, in crevices in rocks and in holes in the ground, where they could have a system of tunnels.
Taxonomy and classification
The mongoose reaches sexual maturity when it is between one and two years old, although some species may mate a little earlier. In the stain, spermatogenesis begins when it weighs about 4000 grams.
In relation to the baculum, it reaches the weight and size of an adult when the animal weighs 500 gr. The process of ovulation is induced by copulation. Regarding the cycle of estrus, it lasts for approximately 3 weeks, while estrus lasts between 3 and 4 days.
The vast majority of species are polyestric, being able to have two or more litters annually. The onset of estrus may be accompanied by behaviors that denote restlessness and anxiety, as well as an increase in scent marks.
The mating system can vary by species. Some may be monogamous, although most are polygamous, copulating several times a day in the absence of estrus and more frequently in the presence of it.
Before copulating, males usually emit some vocalizations, while chasing the female. During mating, the male holds the female from behind, for which she uses her front legs. At the same time, she takes it with her mouth on the side or back of the neck, without biting it.
Some mongooses are highly seasonal, so they breed only in periods when food is abundant. In this sense, in Mauritius, reproduction is synchronized to avoid the drier seasons in the region.
Gestation lasts about 49 days. In the final stage of this period, the female may show antagonistic behaviors in the presence of the males.
As for the litter, this could vary between one and six young. Birth occurs in the nest, which can be a burrow or hole in a log. It usually happens at night, or a little before sunset.
At birth, the calf’s eyes are closed, opening them around 17-20 days. Its body weighs approximately 21 grams and is covered in light gray fur.
In its mouth you can see the incisors and the eruptive cones that correspond to the canines. After two weeks, the canines have emerged and the incisors are already in place. The first exit out of the nest occurs at four weeks and, in the sixth week, the young walk alongside their mother during hunting trips.
Herpes are omnivores, but their diet is mostly meat. Thus, they feed on a great diversity of animals, such as crabs, fish, earthworms, birds, rodents, insects, small mammals, bird eggs, carrion and reptiles.
Within this group, some species of mongoose, such as the Indian gray mongoose, show a predilection for snakes. These have the ability to kill poisonous snakes, such as cobras.
The success of this eating behavior is due to the fact that its organism resists high doses of the poison and its agility when attacking the snake.
Occasionally, the mongoose may eat nuts, roots, seeds, berries, and fruits. Although the vast majority are opportunistic feeders, several species have a specialized diet.
For example, the Liberian mongoose has reduced jaw musculature, compared to the rest of its genus. This, coupled with a modified dentition, are adaptations to their favorite diet: earthworms.
Seasonal and regional variations
In addition, the diet varies according to the season and the region. Thus, for those that live in Puerto Rico, insects represent 56% of their diet, followed by reptiles, myriapods, arachnids, mammals, crustaceans, starfish, amphibians and plants.
In contrast, in Viti Levu (Fiji), the preferred food in the mangrove forests is the crab and in the cane fields, the cockroach. In the Caribbean, the Indian mongoose frequently consumes toads and young hatchlings of the leatherback and hawksbill turtles.
To kill rodents, snakes, and birds, the mongoose thrusts its canines into the brain or spine. As for the scorpions and centipedes, they are bitten and thrown to the ground, before consuming them.
To hunt crabs, they usually work in pairs. One turns the stone over, while the other attacks the animal. When it gets an egg, it breaks its shell against a hard surface.
A common behavior in the mongoose is to smell the surface of the ground and, when it finds an insect, it catches it. If it is under the ground, use its claws to dig and capture it.
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