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The banded mongoose

11 November 2014

 

www.leopard.tvLike all the cats and mongooses, the banded mongoose Mungos mungo has a civet-like ancestor. It is one of two species of Mungos, the other being the Gambian mongoose Mungos gambianus from West Africa. The banded mongoose was originally described scientifically as a type of civet Viverra mungo by Gmelin in 1788 based on a specimen which may have came from the eastern part of South Africa. The new generic name Mungos was created by Geoffrey Saint Hillaire and Cuvier in 1795 when it was realized that these mongooses were not true civets.

The banded mongoose occurs widely in Africa and consequently there are at least 16 subspecies that are being recognized, with at least two and possibly three in South Africa. The common name describes the characteristic transverse black bands on the lower part of the grizzled back to the base of the tail. The tail has a brown tip in paler specimens and a black one in darker ones. The sexes are alike and an adult can become 60 cm long and weigh 1.3 kg. The ears are small and rounded. It occurs widely in southern Africa but is restricted to the bushveld of the more northern provinces of South Africa with an extension along the upper east coast where it may eventually spread to the upper coast of the Eastern Cape province.

The banded mongoose is absent from the western, arid regions of South Africa although it has a wide habitat tolerance. It favours Acacia woodlands but will occur in other woodlands where water is available. The presence of termite mounds which they use for overnight stays seems to be a vital habitat requirement. These mounds are also used as look-out points by an adult for danger while the pack forages.

The banded mongoose is only active during the day. It usually forms packs of six to 12 individuals but occasionally as many as 75. The pack scatters when foraging for food but maintains contact with a large variety of twitters that seem to contain specific messages. Under threat the banded mongoose pack seeks out the nearest shelter such as springhare or aardvark burrows, hollow logs or fallen trees. Banded mongooses climb well and will also climb to the top of a tree when danger threatens. When foraging they use their acute sense of smell to locate grubs under the ground and therefore keep their noses close to the ground while scratching or digging in the soil for food. They also react quickly to the movement of insects. They do not use a specific den for more than one night.

The pack has a strict social hierarchy and a large female seems to be the dominant animal in a pack. The range boundaries are scent-marked with secretions from peri-anal glands that open in a semi-circular pouch that surrounds the anus. The mean range size of a pack varies regionally around 80 ha. Injured individuals are cared for by other pack members.

The main food includes grubs, insects, centipedes, ants, caterpillars, snails, small rodents and wild fruits. Of the insects, beetles are a favourite food and of the wild fruits the sweet berries of raisin bushes Grewia spp are favoured. When toads and hairy caterpillars are eaten they are first rolled around and pawed repeatedly to remove any noxious secretions and bristles. Small rodents are secured by biting them on any part of the body and then shaking them vigorously until they die. Larger prey are held with the forefeet in a typical cat-like manner while being eaten, while large eggs are positioned by the forefeet before being hurled over the back repeatedly onto a rock until the egg cracks and its contents are licked out. The skin of prey with unpalatable skin glands is removed with the forepaws and claws and only the meat is eaten.

Females become sexually mature when they are nine to ten months old and males slightly later. Mating occurs in summer through a set ritual, gestation lasts around 60 days and the young are born from October to February. Litters are born in grass-lined warrens underground or holes that are excavated in termite mounds. The birth weight is around 20 g and a newly born banded mongoose has a sparse cover of hair and a dark skin. The eyes open at an age of nine days and the young grow rapidly. A female has six abdominal mammae. The young mongooses remain at the birth den for the first three to four weeks of their life where an adult male guards them. The mortality of young older than six months is low at around 10 percent although fewer than 50 percent of the young less than three months old survive.

 

References:

Skinner, J D and C T Chimimba (Eds) 2005. The mammals of the southern African subregion, third edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 462 - 465.

Wozencraft, W C 2005. Order Carnivora. In D E Wilson and D M Reeder (Eds), Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographical reference, third edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp 570 - 571.

 

article by Prof J du P Bothma

 

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