Ichneumon, Large grey mongoose
The Egyptian mongoose has short legs and a long body and from a distance often has the appearance of a reptile, moving with a gliding gait, its head low and the long tail stretched out with the tip curling forward. This is the biggest of all the African mongooses. Its shaggy coat is grizzled gray with bands of pale and dark hair, paler underparts and feet that are blackish. The male is significantly bigger than the female. In the wild this carnivore lives as long as 12 years, and in captivity is known to live for more than 20 years.
The Egyptian mongoose occurs throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa, but not the Congo Basin or a large part of the southwest, also being found in Sudan and Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula and Turkey. It has been introduced to Portugal and Spain. This animal prefers to live in savanna, forests, or scrub where there is a good water supply, near streams, rivers, swamps, agricultural land etc. It avoids deserts and humid forests.
Habits and lifestyle
The Egyptian mongoose is mainly active during the day, but is sometimes active at night, usually foraging early morning or late afternoon. It inhabits either a natural den, such as a thicket of vegetation or a rock crevice, or it may adopt or dig a burrow. It is said to be a very playful animal but in the wild can be very vicious. It will enter water quickly and it swims well. These animals enjoy basking in the morning sun. They are a social species and live in family groups or pairs, and it seems that each group will defend a territory together. When threatened or excited, the Egyptian mongoose arches its back and raises its fur. It can stand up on its back legs to survey its surroundings. Although heard rarely, it can chatter, squeak and growl.
troop, committee, delegation, mongeese, mongaggle
Diet and nutrition
Largely carnivorous, these mongooses have a varied diet including small mammals and birds, snakes, frogs, toads, fish, insects, crabs, fruit and sometimes dead animals. They are fond of eggs.
Egyptian mongooses have an interesting mating behavior. During a study in Southwestern Spain in Donana National Park, the largest male showed polygynous behavior, mating with 4 or more females, spending a small amount of time with each one. A smaller male demonstrated monogamous behavior, mating with only one female, with which he spent more time. The only factor explaining this variation behavior and mating tactics seemed to be their size. The mating season is July to August. Gestation lasts for about 11 weeks and usually 2 to 4 young are born. Newborns are helpless but when 6 to 8 days old they are able to follow their mother. They open their eyes between 6 and 8 days old. Male and female both raise their young, the mother doing more work than the father. Young are nursed until they are six months old and they stay with their mothers for about a year. Egyptian mongooses reach maturity then they are two years old.
There are no significant threats to this species. In Spain and Portugal, however, where these animals were introduced, they are considered pests and are often trapped and poisoned.
Egyptian mongoose is widespread and locally common but no overall population estimate is available. Currently this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today remain stable.
Egyptian mongooses impact significantly on their prey populations, such as snakes and rodents.
Fun facts for kids
- The scientific name of the Egyptian mongoose came about because it was thought that they track down crocodile eggs. It is still not known whether or not this is true.
- Mongooses eat eggs in an interesting way, by throwing them between their hind legs to break them against something hard such as a rock or wall.
- Egyptian mongooses share the reputation for snake killing. Mongooses are sometimes thought to be immune to snake poison, but this is not true. They have "lightning-fast reflexes," and when an individual attacks a snake, it makes all the hair on its body stand up, which it is thought confuses the snake. They can also defend themselves against snakes. These animals are able to predict and dodge a snake when it strikes, and catch the snake by the head before it strikes again.
- Egyptian mongooses appear in Egyptian paintings from 300 B.C. It was "Pharaoh's Cat" and considered a holy animal, housed in temples. They were put in arenas as gladiators to fight with snakes. According to legend, they first rolled in mud a few times and let each layer dry, forming a protective shield.
- These animals were also the subject of many myths, due to their talent of "sneaking about" and robbing nests. In these tales, human children were kidnapped. Eventually, these mongooses became sacred for Egyptians, probably due to respect for their deceptiveness.