The mongoose (Herpestidae), a burrowing, non-discriminatory predatory mammal of which there are 33 varieties, is well-known for his ability to kill and eat poisonous snakes. He’s one of a rare group of animals to whom the snake is not a threat, but a meal. These are self-confident, assertive animals. Mongooses have a complex social structure, with groups living alongside others, not always in perfect harmony. Aggression is frequent and often highly intense.
Patrolling and Scent Marking
Mongooses are highly alert, constantly peeking out from their burrows to check on their territory. Since mongoose packs live in close proximity to other packs, there is often conflict over territory. When a mongoose feels that his territory is being threatened by others, he’ll get straight to work patrolling the perimeter of the area to which he lays claim, dropping feces as he goes to mark his boundaries. This is often a precursor to aggressive episodes. The likelihood of an aggressive episode occurring is markedly increased if the mongoose on patrol finds feces that isn’t his.
During breeding season, the testosterone of male mongooses rises. This increases the likelihood of aggression occurring. Testosterone levels in males fluctuate wildly during breeding season and even a perceived threat on the horizon can cause a male’s testosterone levels to jump. Once the testosterone level of a male has peaked, he will switch from patrolling behavior to guarding behavior, often sticking close to his mate to prevent other males from mating with her.
Killing for Company
Male mongooses will kill other mongooses if they feel the need to protect their mate. Mongooses live in constant fear of having their mates taken away from them, either by single males or during a group takeover, where a group of males invades a mixed group with the intention of mating with the females.
Winner Takes it All
The males are right to feel protective. Females will happily mate with interloping males, even during the periods of calm that punctuate a territorial fight. For this reason, it is rare to witness mongooses aggressively posturing, in the way other pack mammals such as elephants do. While posturing enables an animal to force another to back off without increasing the risk of injury to himself, this is no good to mongooses. Since the females are so fickle and keen to mate with outsiders, male mongooses go straight for the kill.
Hate thy Neighbor
Pack animals are typically tolerant of neighboring packs, as there is a mutual interest to avoid aggression and violence. Mongooses, however, are not tolerant. There is a heightened risk of aggression between neighboring packs, when compared to packs from different areas.
- National Geographic: Mongoose
- Banded Mongoose: About Banded Mongooses
- Smithsonian Digital Repository; The American Naturalist: Aggression, Reproduction and Androgens in Wild Dwarf Mongooses; A Test of the Challenge Hypothesis
- Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences: 'Nasty Neighbours' Rather than 'Dear Enemies' in a Social Carnivore
- Anup Shah/Digital Vision/Getty Images