The diminutive dwarf mongoose, Helogale parvula, belongs to the animal order feliformia, which consists of small cat-like animals like meerkats, mongoose, civets, and hyenas.
They’re handsome little creatures with a rich uniform brown pelt which varies from fawn to dark chestnut depending on the individual. An adult dwarf mongoose rarely weighs more than 400g and is just 250mm long, nose to tail.
Dwarf mongoose may look cute and harmless, but they’re also Africa’s smallest carnivorous mammals. Their small stature belies a fierce killer instinct – dwarf mongoose are adept at tracking down and catching beetles, lizards, insects and even snakes. They are also partial to fruit during lean periods.
Most of their victims are hunted on the ground, but mongoose will also dig to find insects hiding in the soil and they’re often seen darting into termite mounds in search of a meal.
Mongoose will use old termite mounds as den sites, lookout points or as temporary homes. Like most of their kind, dwarf mongoose live in large nomadic colonies, moving from place to place in search of fresh foraging grounds every few days.
Family bonds within these groups are strong and they operate as a cohesive unit. There are always sentries on duty and no questions asked when the alarm is sounded. Without hesitation, every member of the colony can disappear in an instant, whether it’s under cover or down a nearby termite hole. Thanks to this buddy system, dwarf mongoose rarely fall victim to other predators.
Researchers have identified 11 different warning calls for this species. Some of these are general, while others appear to be predator-specific, according to whether a ground or air attack is imminent.
The group also shares the responsibilities of raising youngsters. Normally, only the group’s dominant female has pups, so raising them is a team event.
Apart from giving birth to them and suckling them, the mother mongoose has little to do with raising her pups. While she goes about her daily business, her previous year’s litter takes care of the newborns and starts showing them the ropes. By the time a mongoose is 6 months old, it’s ready to take its place in the colony.
With only one breeding female, most of the animals in a colony are closely related, which accounts for their strong bonds. You could get to see their mutual regard in action if you’re lucky enough to spot them while out on a game drive – as long as the sentries don’t see you first!
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