All about the Business

Author: Ryan Johnston

For a long time, it was thought that mongoose were the closest relatives of the hyena, but this is most certainly not the case. They belong to the family Viverridae, which includes genets, civets, and mongoose themselves. In this blog, we are going to have a closer look at the dwarf mongoose (Helogale parvula).

“A rat just ran across the road!” is often the first word guests will shout when they see a dwarf mongoose run across the road for the first time. They are far from rats, though, although they are similar in size. As the name suggests, the dwarf mongoose is the smallest of the 34 mongoose species found across the African continent.

 Social life

Along with their larger cousins, the banded mongoose, dwarf mongoose are incredibly social little creatures. A group of mongoose is referred to as a business or a colony. Colonies usually consist of about 30 individuals, and they are very territorial, with each group covering a square kilometre or two. Within their territory, they will have numerous refuges, used for protection, resting, and denning. Termite mounds and old fallen trees are used for this, and they rotate between these refuges.

Mongoose on safari with Wandering Thru.

Within each business, there will be a dominant pair and a very strict hierarchy. Only the dominant pair will breed, and the females outrank the males, with babies dominating everyone when they are still small. Females are larger than males, and the dominant female can be as much as 30% larger than her mate.

Strange Competition

Every now and then, the alpha female passes away unexpectedly, whether it be from illness or predatory behavior. This leaves the group in some turmoil, but they have a way of figuring out the replacement alpha. The beta (second in charge) will not necessarily take over; she must prove herself. She will have to compete in a showdown against the gamma (third-in-charge) female.

How they do this is through a grooming competition. Each female grooms the other constantly until the looser tires and can no longer groom. This sounds simple, but it may last for a few hours or even over three or four days. Both females can be completely sodden in one another’s saliva. The female that prevails, though, has proven that she is a better mother and so will take over as the new alpha.

 Feeding

Dwarf mongoose will emerge from their den once the sun has risen. They will spend some time socialising, playing, and defecating in a midden close to the den. It is the alpha female that decides when the group gets going and in which direction they set out to feed for the day. They could cover as much as two kilometres (1.25 miles) in a day. The group will stay in contact with one another with short peeping sounds. There will also always be a sentinel watching out as the group feeds and moves.

Mongoose on safari with Wandering Thru.

They feed mainly on insects, but are known to take scorpions, spiders, small lizards, and small snakes as well. The stings of scorpions do not seem to worry them, and they concentrate their attacks on the pincers. They will eat smaller scorpion tails, but not those of the larger species. They also do not cooperate in killing large prey like snakes, and so large snakes are left alone. Their eyes are not as good as some of the other small predators, and a lot of their prey is located by sound or scent.

Youngsters are taught by adults what food to look for and where to look for it as well. When they are around a month old, they will leave the safety of the den to start their schooling career. Each youngster gets their own babysitter, who looks after them and teaches them.

In some areas, dwarf mongooses and certain hornbill species have learned to forage together. If the mongoose is late to join the hornbills in the mornings, the birds are known to wake up the group and push them to get going. 

Teamwork

They may not attack large snakes for food like some of their cousins do, but they will band together to fight one off for protection. If this is the case, the lower ranking animals will put themselves in front of the group. The juveniles would be behind them, while the alpha pair would stay right at the back. They may only join in if there are too few other adults to help. They will help with other predators too, and they have even been recorded saving members from birds of prey.

If an individual from the group is sick or injured, they will be looked after by the rest of the group. Food will be brought to it, and it will be groomed by the rest. Also, if the individual is immobile, the group will stay in the same den as it recovers, rather than changing every few days.

Mongoose on safari with Wandering Thru.

Territory

Dwarf mongoose mark territory by using an anal gland and glands on their cheeks. They do handstands and wipe their anal glands on a vertical object like a small stump. Areas around dens and the territorial boundary itself are the two areas marked most frequently, although they do mark throughout the territory. From allogrooming to sleeping together, the whole group will share a scent that helps identify all the individuals.

Groups bumping into one another can break out in aggressive interactions. It is more about the “bark” than the “bite,” and most disputes will be sorted out before there is any real chance of serious injury. Larger groups generally always win, and so a group that has lost members to predation can find themselves in some trouble. Sometimes juveniles get separated in these arguments, and they may join another business over a period of time.

Conclusion

These cute little mongooses can be observed for hours as they go about their daily routines. If you are lucky enough to see them out on safari, spend some time watching them. They may run away to their hiding places at first, but with their curious nature, they will soon come back out to have a look at you. With their social behaviour, they are always such a treat to watch.

 

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