Doi (identifier) ISBN (identifier) PMID (identifier)

Temporal range: Oligocene to present, 21.8-0 Ma
Mongoose collection.png
Top left: Meerkat
Top right: Yellow mongoose
Bottom left: Slender mongoose
Bottom right: Indian gray mongoose
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Herpestidae
Bonaparte, 1845
Type genus

A mongoose is a small terrestrial carnivorous mammal belonging to the family Herpestidae. This family is currently split into two subfamilies, the Herpestinae and the Mungotinae. The Herpestinae comprises 23 living species that are native to southern Europe, Africa and Asia, whereas the Mungotinae comprises 11 species native to Africa.[2] The Herpestidae originated about 21.8 ± 3.6 million years ago in the Early Miocene and genetically diverged into two main genetic lineages between 19.1 and 18.5 ± 3.5 million years ago.[3]


The English word "mongoose" used to be spelled "mungoose" in the 18th and 19th centuries. The name is derived from names used in India for Herpestes species:[4][5][6][7] muṅgūs or maṅgūs in classical Hindi;[8] muṅgūsa in Marathi;[9] mungi in Telugu;[10] mungi, mungisi and munguli in Kannada.[11]

The form of the English name (since 1698) was altered to its "-goose" ending by folk etymology.[12] The plural form is "mongooses".[13]


Mongooses have long faces and bodies, small, rounded ears, short legs, and long, tapering tails. Most are brindled or grizzly; a few have strongly marked coats which bear a striking resemblance to mustelids. Their nonretractile claws are used primarily for digging. Mongooses, much like goats, have narrow, ovular pupils. Most species have a large anal scent gland, used for territorial marking and signaling reproductive status. The dental formula of mongooses is 3.1.3–4.1–23.1.3–4.1–2. They range from 24 to 58 cm (9.4 to 22.8 in) in head-to-body length, excluding the tail. In weight, they range from 320 g (11 oz) to 5 kg (11 lb).[14]

Mongooses are one of at least four known mammalian taxa with mutations in the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor that protect against snake venom.[15] Their modified receptors prevent the snake venom α-neurotoxin from binding. These represent four separate, independent mutations. In the mongoose, this change is effected uniquely, by glycosylation.[16]


Herpestina was a scientific name proposed by Charles Lucien Bonaparte in 1845 who considered the mongooses a subfamily of the Viverridae.[17] In 1864, John Edward Gray classified the mongooses into three subfamilies: Galiidinae, Herpestinae and Mungotinae.[18] This grouping was supported by Reginald Innes Pocock in 1919 who referred to the family as "Mungotidae".[19]

Genetic research based on nuclear and mitochondrial DNA analyses revealed that the galidiines are more closely related to Madagascar carnivores, including the fossa and Malagasy civet.[20][21] Galiidinae is presently considered a subfamily of Eupleridae.[22]

Subfamily Genus Species Image of type species
Herpestes Illiger, 1811[23] Herpestes ichneumon Египетский мангуст, или фараонова крыса, или ихневмо́н.jpg
Atilax Cuvier, 1826[32] Marsh mongoose (A. paludinosus) Cuvier, 1829[33] Marsh mongoose or water mongoose, Atilax paludinosus, at Rietvlei Nature Reserve, Gauteng, South Africa (22548192738).jpg
Cynictis Ogilby, 1833[34] Yellow mongoose (C. penicillata) (Cuvier, 1829)[33] Fuchsmanguste 2.jpg
Ichneumia Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1837 White-tailed mongoose (I. albicauda) (Cuvier, 1829)[33] White-tailed mongoose (Ichneumia albicauda), crop.jpg
Bdeogale Peters, 1850[35] Bushy-tailed mongoose - Snapshot Safari Ruaha1.jpg
Galerella Gray, 1864 Galerella sanguinea Zoo Praha 2011-2.jpg
Rhynchogale Thomas, 1894 Meller's mongoose (R. melleri) Gray, 1865 Smit.m.rhinogale.melleri.white.background.jpg
Paracynictis Pocock, 1916 Selous's mongoose (P. selousi) (de Winton, 1896) Paracynictis selousi Smit.jpg
Mungotinae Mungos E. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire & F. Cuvier, 1795[42] Banded mongoose (Mungos mungo).jpg
Suricata Desmarest, 1804[45] Meerkat (S. suricatta) (Schreber, 1776)[46] Meerkat (Suricata suricatta) (32993685706).jpg
Crossarchus Cuvier, 1825 Crossarchus obscurus Plzen zoo 02.2011.jpg
Helogale Gray, 1861 Helogale parvula, Serengeti.jpg
Dologale Thomas, 1920 Pousargues's mongoose (D. dybowskii) Pousargues, 1894[47] Dologale Dybowskii - Chinko Project Area - 20120516.jpg
Liberiictis Hayman, 1958 Liberian mongoose (L. kuhni) Hayman, 1958

Phylogenetic relationships

In 1989, zoologist W. Christopher Wozencraft noted that while the phylogenetic relationships in Mungotinae were obscure, studies in the latter part of 20th century supported two monophyletic clades in Herpestinae: one consisting of Atilax and Herpestes, and the other comprising Bdeogale, Ichneumia and Rhynchogale.[48] Like other feliformian carnivorans, mongooses descended from the viverravines, which were civet- or genet-like mammals.

The phylogenetic relationships of Herpestidae are shown in the following cladogram:[49][3]


Helogale parvula (Common dwarf mongoose)

Helogale hirtula (Ethiopian dwarf mongoose)


Dologale dybowskii (Pousargues's mongoose)


Crossarchus alexandri (Alexander's kusimanse)

Crossarchus ansorgei (Angolan kusimanse)

Crossarchus platycephalus (Flat-headed kusimanse)

Crossarchus obscurus (Common kusimanse) Crossarchus obscurus.jpg


Liberiictis kuhni (Liberian mongoose)


Mungos gambianus (Gambian mongoose)

Mungos mungo (Banded mongoose) Lydekker - Broad-banded Cusimanse (white background).JPG


Suricata suricatta (Meerkat) MeerkatAtHappyHollow white background.jpg


Bdeogale jacksoni (Jackson's mongoose)

Bdeogale nigripes (Black-footed mongoose)

Bdeogale crassicauda (Bushy-tailed mongoose)


Rhynchogale melleri (Meller's mongoose) Smit.m.rhinogale.melleri.white.background.jpg


Paracynictis selousi (Selous's mongoose)


Cynictis penicillata (Yellow mongoose)


Ichneumia albicauda (White-tailed mongoose)

"Herpestes" ichneumon (Egyptian mongoose)[3]


Galerella sanguinea (Slender mongoose)

Galerella pulverulenta (Cape gray mongoose)

Galerella ochracea (Somalian slender mongoose)

Galerella flavescens (Angolan slender mongoose)

Galerella nigrata (Black mongoose)


Atilax paludinosus (Marsh mongoose)

 Xenogale [3]

Xenogale naso (Long-nosed mongoose)


Herpestes lemanensis

Herpestes brachyurus (Short-tailed mongoose)

Herpestes semitorquatus (Collared mongoose)

Herpestes urva (Crab-eating mongoose)

Herpestes smithii (Ruddy mongoose)

Herpestes vitticollis (Stripe-necked mongoose)

Herpestes fuscus (Indian brown mongoose)

Herpestes edwardsi (Indian gray mongoose)

Herpestes javanicus (Small Asian mongoose) Small asian mongoose white background.jpg

Extinct species

Leptoplesictis Major, 1903[50]

Behaviour and ecology

Indian gray mongoose, Herpestes edwardsii

Mongooses are largely terrestrial.[citation needed] The Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) has been observed in pairs and groups of up to five individuals.[51]


Mongooses mostly feed on insects, crabs, earthworms, lizards, birds, and rodents. However, they also eat eggs and carrion.[52]

The Indian gray mongoose and others are well known for their ability to fight and kill venomous snakes, particularly cobras. They are adept at such tasks due to their agility, thick coats, and specialized acetylcholine receptors that render them resistant or immune to snake venom.[53] However, they typically avoid the cobra and have no particular affinity for consuming its meat.[54]

Some species can learn simple tricks. They can be semi-domesticated and are kept as pets to control vermin.[55] However, they can be more destructive than desired. When imported into the West Indies to kill rats, they destroyed most of the small, ground-based fauna. For this reason, it is illegal to import most species of mongooses into the United States,[56] Australia, and other countries. Mongooses were introduced to Hawaii in 1883 and have had a significant adverse effect on native species.[57][better source needed]


Cynictis penicillata mating

The mongoose emits a high-pitched noise, commonly known as giggling, when it mates. Giggling is also heard during courtship.[58][better source needed] Communities of female banded mongooses (Mungos mungo) synchronize their whelping to the same day to deter infanticide by dominant females.[citation needed]


It is not yet known how long a mongoose lives in its natural habitat; however, it is known that the average lifespan in captivity is twenty years.[59]

Relationship with humans

In ancient Mesopotamia, mongooses were sacred to the deity Ningilin, who was conflated with Ningirima, a deity of magic who was invoked for protection against serpents. According to a Babylonian popular saying, when a mouse fled from a mongoose into a serpent's hole, it announced, "I bring you greetings from the snake-charmer!" A creature resembling a mongoose also appears in Old Babylonian glyptic art, but its significance is not known.[60]

According to Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (1.35 & 1.87), Egyptians venerated native mongooses (Herpestes ichneumon) for their ability to handle venomous snakes and for their occasional diet of crocodile eggs.[citation needed] The Buddhist god of wealth Vaiśravaṇa, or Dzambala for Tibetans, is frequently depicted holding a mongoose that is spitting jewels from its mouth.[61] The Hindu god of wealth, Kubera (being the son of Vishrava ("Fame"), Kubera is also called Vaisravana), is often portrayed holding a mongoose in his left hand, hence the sight of a mongoose is considered lucky by some.[62]

All mongoose species, except for Suricata suricatta, are classed as a "prohibited new organism" under New Zealand's Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, preventing them from being imported into the country.[63]

Mongooses are a common spectacle at roadside shows in Pakistan. Snake charmers keep mongooses for mock fights with snakes. This practice is looked at as unethical and cruel across the rest of the world.[citation needed]

On Okinawa (where mongooses were misguidedly brought in to control the local habu snake), mongoose fights with these highly venomous snakes (Ovophis okinavensis and Trimeresurus flavoviridis) in a closed perimeter were presented as spectator events at such parks as Okinawa World; however, due to pressure from animal rights activists, the spectacle is less common today.[64]

In popular culture

A well-known fictional mongoose is Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, who appears in a short story of the same title in The Jungle Book (1894) by Rudyard Kipling. In this tale set in India, the young mongoose saves his family from a krait and from Nag and Nagaina, two cobras. The story was later made into several films and a song by Donovan, among other references. A mongoose is also featured in Bram Stoker's novel The Lair of the White Worm. The main character, Adam Salton, purchases one to independently hunt snakes. Another mongoose features in the denouement of the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Crooked Man", by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The Indian Tamil devotional film Padai Veetu Amman shows Tamil actor Vinu Chakravarthy changing himself into a mongoose by using his evil tantric mantra, to fight with goddess Amman. However, the mongoose finally dies in the hands of the goddess.

The mongoose is a prohibited animal in the United States. However, the 1962 case of "Mr. Magoo" became an exception. It was brought to Duluth, Minnesota by a merchant seaman and faced being euthanized. A public campaign to save it resulted in the intervention of Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, who exempted Magoo from the regulations. Magoo lived on display as the most popular attraction of the Lake Superior Zoo, dying of old age in 1968.[65]

Pablo Neruda had a pet mongoose named Kiria while he lived in Colombo. Kiria had the habit of following the poet everywhere. However, after Neruda moved to Batavia, Kiria disappeared and was never seen again.[66]

See also


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