Mongooses are family Herpestidae mammals that hail mostly from Africa, although some come from areas in Asia and southwestern Europe. The mongoose world consists of at least 20 distinct species of these carnivorous burrow inhabitants, including Indian gray mongooses (Herpestes edwardsii) and slender-tailed meerkats (Suricata suricatta). As far as self-defense goes, these little guys have many tricks up their sleeves.
Teeth and Claw Combination
When mongooses feel frightened and nervous, they sometimes respond by lying down on the ground, flat on their backs. When they do this, they're free to employ the combination of their teeth and claws to protect themselves -- all while simultaneously shielding the napes of their necks. This defense typically occurs when mongooses feel like they have no other option to get out of the perilous situation, however.
Some mongooses use "fake outs" as self-protection, specifically slender-tailed meerkats (Suricata suricatta) and banded mongooses (Mungos mungo). They both move their bodies as a means of making their opponents incorrectly think that they're about to lunge to the front. Slender-tailed meerkats move upward and downward, while banded mongooses repeatedly sway to the left and then back to the right.
Indian gray mongooses (Herpestes edwardsii) deal with dangerous situations by curling their bodies up into tight ball shapes, not too unlike hedgehogs. Their lumbar vertebrae are useful in that they have particularly strong and wide transverse processes. When Indian gray mongooses roll their bodies up, their opponents can only access these sturdy backbones -- voila, reliable protection.
Mongooses also often opt to go classic when it comes to protecting themselves. Slender mongooses (Galerella sanguinea) are one such example. When they feel alarmed or scared, they typically escape into burrows, either ones they created on their own or ones that were previously established by aardvarks.
Attempts to Look Bigger
Mongooses occasionally try to scare away danger by trying to make their bodies look bigger and therefore more intimidating. This defensive behavior is prevalent in slender-tailed meerkats. They typically proceed by dropping their heads down, rounding their backs and elevating their tails. This behavior is usually accompanied by other menacing "go away" signs, including spitting and snarling. Many mongooses defend themselves using the power of numbers -- or "mobs." When several mongooses all use these defensive tactics at the same time, they're "mobbing."
Mongooses, like most other animals, deal with the perils of predators regularly. Some of their most prominent enemies are jackals, hawks, leopards, snakes and honey badgers.
- The Behavior Guide to African Mammals; Richard Estes
- Mongooses - Their Natural History and Behavior; Howard Everest Hinton and A. M. Sarah Dunn
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Herpestes Ichneumon
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Herpestidae
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Herpestes Edwardsii
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Suricata Suricatta
- The South African Bushveld; Lee Gutteridge
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