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Egyptian MongooseEgyptian Mongoose

Mongoose, group of bold, agile carnivores renowned for killing snakes. There are more than 30 species of mongooses. They are found in southern Europe, southern Asia, and throughout Africa.

The ichneumon, meaning “tracker” in Greek, is a large mongoose species common in most areas of Africa. Revered by the ancient Egyptians, it was often mummified, and is represented in Egyptian statues and reliefs dating almost to 3000 bc. The Indian mongoose is the most widely known Asian species. The suricate, or slender-tailed meerkat, is a mongoose of southern Africa.

Mongooses have a tapered head, long body, and short legs. They are typically gray or brown with long, coarse hair that bristles when the animal is disturbed. Some species are marked with stripes, dark legs, or ringed tails. Adults vary considerably in size, ranging from 23 to 65 cm (9 to 26 in) long. Most species have five toes on each limb, but the black-footed mongoose has only four. The claws, used for digging burrows, are quite strong and do not retract.

Mongooses are clever predators. They eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, crabs, snails, eggs, insects, and sometimes fruit. Some species will attack and kill even the largest and most poisonous snakes—to whose poison they are not immune. Typically, these mongooses repeatedly provoke the snake to strike, nimbly avoiding each attack. As the snake begins to tire, the mongoose quickly springs, biting its head and crushing the skull. Mongooses are also known to crack eggs by throwing them against a rock or onto the ground.

Mongooses live in a variety of habitats, but most often forests and wetlands. They can inhabit ground burrows, hollow trees, or crevices among rocks or roots. The animals are usually active during the day, but some species are nocturnal. They can live alone, in pairs, or in large groups, depending on the species. Litter size is two to four young.

Mongooses have been used to control rodents and snakes in some areas of the world, including Hawaii and the West Indies where results were disastrous because the mongooses caused serious damage to native animal species. Importation of the animal into the United States is now prohibited because it can cause severe ecosystem destruction. Mongooses live about 7 to 12 years in the wild, but in captivity they may live more than 20 years.

Scientific classification: Mongooses belong to the family Herpestidae. The ichneumon is classified as Herpestes ichneumon, the Indian mongoose as Herpestes edwardsi, and the suricate as Suricata suricatta.

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