Mongolympics

Having spent February showcasing the diversity of mongooses in the world I felt compelled to have a round-up post, that would evaluate the different mongoose species and compare them to each other. Hence: mongolympics. To be honest it’s more like an awards ceremony than a competitive event, so maybe Maftas?

(if mongooses aren’t your thing, this post may not be relevant to your interests. that may be many people, but all of them are not the owners of this blog)

Anyway, the categories are:

  1. biggest mongoose
  2. smallest mongoose
  3. best-organised mongoose
  4. best-looking mongoose
  5. rarest mongoose
  6. commonest mongoose
  7. most agile mongoose
  8. most badass mongoose
  9. best mongoose

(pictures show first-placed mongoose)

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Ruddy and Long-Nosed

Ruddy Mongoose

The last two species to showcase are the long-nosed mongoose (Herpestes naso) and the ruddy mongoose (Herpestes smithii). The long-nosed mongoose, not to be confused with the common kusimanse, also called ‘long-nosed mongoose’, is another of the species that inhabits west and central Africa, dwelling in the forests of Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, etc. It is also a relatively rare and little-known species, and there consequently appear to be pictures of it on the interwebs.

The ruddy mongoose, on the other hand, inhabits India and Sri Lanka. There are plenty of pictures of it (like these two), which show both its resemblance to the more common and slightly smaller indian grey mongoose, and its even greater resemblance to the indian brown mongoose. Like the indian brown, it lives principally in forested rather than open areas, and the main difference seems to be the slightly more reddish colour of its fur, and the black tip on its tail.

Stripe-Necked and Crab-Eating

Stripe-Necked Mongoose

Stripe-Necked Mongoose

Today we look at two very similar mongooses, the stripe-necked mongoose (Herpestes vitticollis) and the crab-eating mongoose (Herpestes urva).  These two closely-related species are both quite large (around 3 feet long) with short legs and a short tail. They both also have a stripe on their necks, although the stripe-necked mongoose has a black stripe, while the crab-eating has a white one.

They also qualify as somewhat badass for killing and eating deer. Now that’s not quite true. They kill and eat ‘mouse deer‘, deer-like creatures which are themselves only around 3 feet long. So that’s not hugely impressive. I retract the badass comment.

The crab-eating mongoose, as one might imagine, is the most aquatic species, swimming confidently and often eating, um, crabs. It inhabits various wet and foresty areas across all of south-east Asia, northern India, southern China, and western Indonesia. The stripe-necked mongoose, on the other hand, is confined to Sri Lanka and the southern tip of India.

We are nearing the end of this year’s Mongoose Month. Over the next two days we will round off with ruddy long-nosed mongooses.

Mongooses of Indonesia

I’ve already discussed one mongoose species that inhabits some of the islands of the malay archipelago, namely the small indian or small asian mongoose. But there are three species that live exclusively here – Hose’s mongoose (Herpestes hosei), the collared mongoose (Herpestes semitorquatus), and the short-tailed mongoose (Herpestes brachyurus).

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).

No, the mutation here is just the colour – though not technically an albino, this zoo-dwelling specimen is white.  Normally, short-tailed mongooses are a very dark brown, while collared and Hose’s mongooses are sort of reddish-russet-brown. That, of course, is if the Hose’s mongoose exists, which, since it is known only from a single specimen, it may not do.

The key point to take away is that this white mongoose is cute and someone should make a lolcat out of it (I say lolcat advisedly, since mongooses are virtually cats anyway).

Indian Mongooses: Brown, Grey, and Small

Indian Grey Mongoose

Indian Grey Mongoose

Today I’m going to talk about some of the mongooses that live in India, in particular the indian grey mongoose (Herpestes edwardsii), the indian brown mongoose (Herpestes fuscus), and the small indian mongoose (Herpestes javanicus).

As the name suggests, the small indian mongoose is the smallest, while the indian brown is the largest. The same ordering applies to their range: the small indian mongoose (as indicated by its other names, like small Asian mongoose or Javan mongoose) is found across most of the southern half of Asia, from Iran to Indonesia. The larger indian brown mongoose is restricted to southern India and Sri Lanka, while the intermediate indian grey mongoose is more widespread than the brown but less than the small, but still covering all of India and a bit beyond.

Indian Brown Mongoose

Indian Brown Mongoose

The three also differ in their preferred habitat. The brown one prefers thick forests, the grey one likes bushes and long grass, and the small one is happy pretty much anywhere.

The grey and small species are the mongooses most likely to be seen fighting cobras for the amusement of bloodthirsty humans. The most famous literary mongoose is, I believe, an indian grey – Rikki-Tikki-Tavi of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘jungle book’. This story tells of how fantastic it is when the native mongoose risks death to defend the invading British from resentful cobras who had previously enjoyed having the garden to themselves. Despite the cobras being there first, they must die so that the humans can be safe. As you may have picked up, I am not entirely in agreement with every aspect of Kipling’s worldview.

Small Indian Mongoose

Small Indian Mongoose

The Egyptian Mongoose and its Heroic Exploits

The egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) is one of the most widely-distributed mongooses, ranging across most of Africa as well as parts of the Middle East and Southern Europe. Just as the Egyptians are thought to have first domesticated the cat, to control mice and keep them away from grain stores, so it’s thought they may have domesticated the egyptian mongoose even earlier for the same purpose. Even today it is sometimes kept as a household pet.

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Bdeogale: More Secret Mongooses

Jacksons Mongoose

Jackson's Mongoose

The final Africa-constrained genus of mongooses is Bdeogale, who are, like those in the last mongoose-related post, very rare. Indeed Jackson’s mongoose (Bdeogale jacksoni) is possibly the rarest carnivore in Africa. It and the related bushy-tailed mongoose (Bdeogale crassicauda) are riddles, wrapped in mysteries, inside enigmas. They also live in Kenya and Tanzania-type area, in the forests (it’s easier to be inside an enigma inside a forest). The black-footed mongoose (Bdeogale nigripes) is a little more common – merely a riddle wrapped in a mystery, outside an enigma. It dwells further west, around Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo and Angola.

Bushy-Tailed Mongoose
Bushy-Tailed Mongoose

All three species look fairly similar; dark fur, fully black on the legs, with bushy, fox-like tails. All appear to be largely nocturnal, terrestrial, and solitary.

The Secret Mongooses

Today’s mongoose post will be about a selection of very poorly-understood mongooses, who are rare and mysterious, like mew.

The four are: the liberian mongoose (Liberiictis kuhni), Sellous’ mongoose (Paracynictis selousi), Meller’s mongoose (Rhynchogale melleri), and Pousargue’s mongoose (Dologale dybowskii).

As I said, relatively little is known about them so there’s not that much to say. Of some of them, there are no pictures, so we make do with what we have. Most of them are thought to be mainly or partly nocturnal (which sounds rather like an excuse to me), and the general impression is that they mainly eat insects – especially the liberian mongoose shown below, which has a distinctly shrew-like appearance. Generally they’re quite solitary and inhabit a variety of habitats, with a skew towards woodlands and other places where it’s hard for pokemon trainers scientists to find them.

Liberian mongoose (Liberiictis kuhni)

They are all African – their ranges are, respectively, in the far west (around Liberia, obv.), the south-west (Angola type area), the south-east (around Tanzania) and the east-of-centre (at the boundary of Sudan, Congo, and Uganda). Indeed, all the mongooses discussed so far have been African. That relates to the structure of the family. There are 14 genera (plural of ‘genus’), and only one of them (Herpestes) has Asian members – but that genus is also the largest (with 12 species in it) and one of the most successful. So I’ve been mopping up the little genera with their one or two species, before getting to the really beefy one.

This reflects a general trend: Africa (as well as South America and Australasia) is a continent with lots of “evolutionary detritus”. Lines of descent that have mainly died out often have a few representatives in Africa. The northern continents, on the other hand, are much more dominated by a smaller number of very successful lines of descent – for example, dogs have replaced hyaenas everywhere except Africa, and the family giraffidae (giraffes and okapis), which previously was much larger, now has representatives only in Africa.

The Genus Galerella

The “main man”-goose of this genus is the slender mongoose (Galerella sanguinea), which has a range going over most of sub-saharan Africa, except the really wet bits and the really dry bits. There are three related species with more restricted ranges: the cape grey mongoose (Galerella pulverulenta) of South Africa; the Angolan slender mongoose (Galerella flavescens) of Angola; and the Somalian slender mongoose (Galerella ochracea) of Somalia.

In general, these mongooses are of the solitary persuasion, unlike those meerkats and craziness. The most notable thing about this lot is that the slender mongoose is the most arboreal of mongooses – it is as adept at climbing trees (and hunting things in them) as a squirrel. One indication of this is that, like squirrels but unlike other mongooses, slender mongooses can run head-first down a tree trunk, facing downwards. Another indication is that, apparently, birds will often gang together to mob slender mongooses and drive them about, while ignoring other mongooses, less adept at climbing.

A couple of quick notes about mongooses in general. Despite being more closely related to cats than to dogs, they share dogs’ trait of non-retractable claws. And the pupils of their eyes are a weird oblong shape like those of goats. Just FYI.

Cynictis penicillata

Awais accurately points out that my posts on consciousness are distinctly vague about what it is I’m actually trying to say. A post that tries to meet this head-on is planned, but the various spaces and cavities in my head behind my eyes and nose are so congested and my throat so coughulous that it may not be for a couple of days.

In the meantime, we have what I think is my favourite mongoose so far: the yellow mongoose (Cynictis penicillata). For some reason it’s also known as the red meerkat (colour confusion is probably appropriate for a mongoose named after a monkey named after a cat). But regardless of what it’s called, it’s gorgeous.

EDIT: I have found that a lot of people come to this particular post from doing a search for ‘mongoose’ – not sure why this one and not any of my other 16 posts about mongooses. For the benefit of those people (hi!) a list of all my mongoose-related posts can be found in the ‘Zoological Dabblings’ tab in the top righthand corner.

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