Helogale hirtula

Today’s mognoose is likely to be a bit boring, because the Ethiopian dwarf mongoose (Helogale hirtula) is extremely similar to yesterday’s common dwarf mongoose (Helogale parvula).

The main difference is that whereas the common dwarf mongoose is very common over about half of Africa, the Ethiopian dwarf mongoose (sometimes called the Somali dwarf mongoose) lives mainly in Ethiopia (and Somalia).

So I’ll just add some more comments about mongooses in general. I discussed their close relatives the viverrids yesterday. Animals like this – mongooses, civets, etc. – might remind British readers of ferrets or weasels. But they’re actually not very closely related at all. You see, ferrets and weasels belong to the family mustelidae (from latin ‘musteles’: weasel), along with otters, badgers, stoats, wolverines, etc. (possibly skunks, though they now tend to be put in a separate family, the closely-related mephitidae).

All of these are members of the order Carnivora, which includes the great majority of meat-eating mammals. But this order has two big branches – the dog-types, and the cat-types (their technical names are caniforms and feliforms, which are latin for, um, ‘dog-types’ and ‘cat-types’).

In this division, the weasels and their relatives are over on the dog-type side, while mongooses and their relatives are over on the cat-type side. So a ferret, for example, is more closely related to a wolf (or even a polar bear, another caniform) than it is to a mongoose, despite the enormous physical similarity.

This is an example of ‘convergent evolution’ – animals from different lines of descent evolve similar appearances to match similar ecological roles. An very striking example is the resemblance between dolphins and sharks, despite one being a mammal and the other a fish. Another example from within the Carnivora is that hyaenas are feliforms – that is, despite their resemblance to dogs, they are actually more closely related to cats – indeed possibly their closest relatives are mongooses. But a similar role to dogs has meant similar body form.

3 Responses to “Helogale hirtula”

  1. DOMINO Says:

    So, it’s not “mongeese” hey?

  2. Alderson Warm-Fork Says:

    No, the word has nothing to do with geese, it’s from an indian word. No-one’s quite sure why English speakers decided to spell it with the ‘e’, they may have been under the impression there was some sort of goose issue, that when geese migrated to mongolia they became mon-geese, but that would be, to put it mildly, implausible.

  3. Mongooses of Indonesia « Directionless Bones Says:

    […] However, these mongooses are very little known. In fact the only photos of any of them which appears to exist on the internet are these two, which show a mutant short-tailed mongoose. You might think it has supernormal powers of healing, but that’s wolverine, who is a mustelid, not a herpestid – i.e. a dog-type, rather than a cat-type (this is explained a little more here). […]

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