Dwarf Mongoose

A dwarf mongoose looks toward the camera.

The dwarf mongoose is a common critter that happens to be Africa's smallest carnivore.

Name:
Dwarf Mongoose
Scientific Name:
Helogale parvula
Weight:
210 to 350 g
Length:
18 to 28 cm
Mating Season:
Throughout the year

Description

These animals have grey fur and orange-brown undercoat, although the shade may be much lighter or darker from region to region. This, however, doesn’t it doesn’t really distinguish it from its brother and sister species. The dwarf mongoose is much smaller compared to other mongoose species, and this is generally what makes the difference in identifying it when spotted on a game drive or safari walk. To put this into perspective, the dwarf mongoose is the smallest carnivorous animal in Africa and weighs less than an average sized steak at a steakhouse, a mere 210 – 350g (7.4 – 12.3 oz.) on average.

Distribution

Dwarf Mongooses can be found throughout a great portion of Africa south of the equator. Their range starts on the equator in parts of Kenya and also coastal Somalia where water is a scarce resource, down through Mozambique and parts of Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Angola to the northern parts of South Africa where the Kruger National Park is situated. Like other species of mongoose, they also typically don’t coincide with desert areas, and this can be seen by their absence in the Namib Desert. They can typically only be found in areas with elevations lower than 2000 m from sea-level. 

Status

Dwarf Mongooses are in a very stable state as a species and are in no current harm when pondering the future of their conservation and the survival of their species. In area where they really flourish, namely open savanna or woodland areas, they can be found in astonishingly high numbers. Their population density in areas like this typically falls around 30 members on every square kilometer of land. It is mainly their smaller distribution range and preference for certain habitats and areas that excludes them from the running for most common species of mongoose, although most species of mongoose are labeled least concern.

Habitat

Open savanna, woodland and grassland areas or regions are where these very adorable yet surprisingly feisty carnivores are most frequently found, and in great numbers. Areas like the plains of the Serengeti or the grasslands near Satara in the Kruger National Park are the perfect setting in which to find these small creatures as they inspect termite mounds or simply rest on them. When they are put in the perfect environment they are easily the most common carnivore or small mammal around. Their diet of snakes, birds, rodents and insects gives them an advantage given the only real competition they deal with is other species of mongoose.

Social Organization

These small creatures form a type of community in which they groom and care for each other, made up with both related and unrelated members and a supreme or dominant breeding pair. They remain territorial creatures however.  On average these little packs have 8 or 9 members, of whom most are female, typically around 3 to 4, 2 to 3 members are generally adult males and then the remaining 2 to 3 are juveniles. Each member of the pack fulfills a different social role and helps the clan as a whole to survive through this intricate system. The oldest pair within the pack is the dominant pair, and they are privileged, being able to exclusively produce all the young that make up the next generation of dwarf mongoose for the pack.

Social Behavior

Dwarf Mongooses are diurnal, meaning they are most active during the day time, and for this reason they can and are more frequently seen. They are very easily motivated or put off by the state of the weather, with a temperate day higher on the list and a thunder shower a call for some rest. They interact sexually and on a social level shortly after retrieving food or hunting for the day. When foraging they keep communication lines very much open, and constantly talk to each other. The calls they make are quite high pitched, and there are distinct differences between calls with different meanings.

Reproduction

When in heat, the external genitals of female mongooses become a slightly redder shade than usual, and swell quite a bit in a period that lasts an average of 4 days. Females conceive as early as 15 months of age, just over a year old. Courtship begins when the male starts licking and smelling the females swollen genitals. They then chase each other and groom each other before copulation actually starts when the male decides to take his chance and mount. This may happen over 100 times during the course of the 4-day mating period, but only roughly 20 of these will be complete. A litter of 1 – 6 young will be born a few weeks after the pair mated. This cycle may be repeated 2 to 3 times a year.

Anti-Predator Behavior

A pack of dwarf mongoose that encounter a predator out in the open typically don’t employ the ‘stick together’ strategy, mainly due to their size which will inevitably make any intentions of intimidation fall apart. Instead they go for the flight option, getting shelter as quickly and swiftly as possible and making lots of noise in the process to alert other animals in the near vicinity. Eagles like the large Martial Eagle are the most common members of a habitat which feed on mongooses, and this can be seen by their fearful reactions when an eagle is sighted.

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