Sunday, 14 February 2010
Compare the mongoose
Yellow Mongooses have an extensive range in southern Africa, and at least 11 subspecies have been defined, although whether these are all valid is debatable. There is however a tendency for northern animals to be smaller and greyer than those to the south. This probably is an effect of the average colour of the habitat – Yellow Mongooses have numerous natural enemies, especially birds of prey, and need to match their background as closely as possible. Their natural habitat is dry grassland to semi-desert, where they live in burrows. The diet is mainly insects, but they will also catch rodents, reptiles, and birds. In general, they could be considered the ecological equivalent of the smaller species of North American fox.
The ancestral mongoose was probably a solitary, nocturnal, forest-dweller in Africa, where most species of mongoose are still found, although they have spread to India and beyond. They have also been introduced by humans as pest control, often to disastrous affect on the local wildlife, especially on oceanic islands with no native mammalian predators. The earliest such introductions were carried out by the Romans (or possibly the Carthaginians) – in any event Egyptian Mongooses are now found in both Spain and Italy. As well as having a potential impact on native wildlife, mongooses are vectors of various diseases including rabies – in fact Yellow Mongooses are the primary rabies carrier in Southern Africa,
Mongooses are now placed in a separate family, the Herpestidae, after previously being combined with the genets in the Viverridae. They are an ancient branch of the Feliforma, the group of carnivorous mammals that also include the cats and hyenas.
At an early stage of their evolution, at least one pregnant female managed to cross the strait between mainland Africa and Madagascar, giving rise to several species of endemic Madagascan mongooses. Most continue the small, short-legged carnivore lifestyle of their ancestor, but one species, the Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) evolved to fill the big-cat niche, becoming the largest of all mongooses and a major natural predator of lemurs.
Meanwhile, back on mainland Africa, one lineage of mongooses adapted to life in open grassland and an insectivorous diet by becoming highly social, leading to several genera of social mongooses, of which the most famous is the Meerkat, Suricatta, seen in zoos and TV advertisements all over the world. Despite its tendency to live in sometimes quite extensive family groups, the Yellow Mongoose does not belong to this clade – it appears to have adapted to grassland life separately and adopted some similar lifestyle habits to its social cousins.
There are no significant threats to Yellow Mongooses as a species – in fact they often thrive around farmland which has a high concentration of their insect prey. The main problem is persecution by farmers worried by the rabies threat, and threats to other wildlife as a result of “friendly fire” damage when poison gas is used on their burrow systems.
(Image from Copyright-free-pictures.org.uk)