Colours of Wildlife: Banded Mongoose

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Banded Mongoose

Banded Mongoose by Willem.

Willem is a wildlife artist based in South Africa. He says "My aim is simply to express the beauty and wonder that is in Nature, and to heighten people's appreciation of plants, animals and the wilderness. Not everything I paint is African! Though I've never been there, I'm also fascinated by Asia and I've done paintings of Asian rhinos and birds as well. I may in future do some of European, Australian and American species too. I'm fascinated by wild things from all over the world! I mainly paint in watercolours. . . but actually many media including 'digital' paintings with the computer!"

Back to South Africa again! This little critter is a Banded Mongoose, Mungos mungo, a species I know very well! It is one of the most widespread and common mongooses in sub-Saharan Africa. In South Africa it lives mostly in the northeastern regions, in woodland and savannah, staying away from dense forests as well as from very open, dry or cold regions. The banded mongoose is a mid-sized mongoose, reaching about 55 cm/22" in length and most of the time about 1.5 kg/3.3 lbs in weight but occasionally reaching 2 kg/4.4 lbs. It is a chunky critter with a stout body and a fairly short tail. Its claws are longest on its front paws. It is named for the dark bands over its back. These make it very easy to recognize. Over its large range, it varies from light to dark in body colour, but it is always banded.

Friendly and Sociable

Banded mongooses are the most social of the mongooses … indeed, they're among the most social of all carnivores! They live in, well, bands! These can number up to 40 animals. These are usually dominated by a single male, and several breeding females. The rest of the pack will typically be the offspring of those. They have a ranking system not much based on sex, but rather on age, size and aggressiveness. Banded mongooses are active during the day, resting and sleeping by night. They eat mostly invertebrates, and are even able to deal with poisonous critters like millipedes and frogs and toads! They eat small lizards and snakes, but only rarely will they catch small rodents or the chicks of birds. They like birds' eggs, and have a typical mongoose way of dealing with them. They stand over the eggs and then use their front paws to throw the egg backwards between their hind legs against a stone or some other hard object lined up behind them. They continue with this until the egg breaks, and then they lick up the contents. Lastly, they will also eat wild fruit that they encounter.

The roaming band of mongooses will scour the countryside looking for anything edible they can find. Their senses of sight, hearing and smell are all excellent. They're very inquisitive, and will investigate anything strange or unusual that they encounter. They run with a shuffling gait, keeping their noses close to the ground. As they go, they keep in contact with each other with constant chirping calls. These become higher the further the troop members are apart from each other. They dig in the ground a lot using their long claws. They are very cooperative: if one of them finds an abundant source of food, it will call out excitedly to the others to let them know. Also, if threatened by a predator, the mongooses will utter loud, snapping calls, which will have the band come running to each other's aid. Some of them will rear up on their hind legs to see the threat better. With the individuals of the whole band scurrying about close together, growling and with their fur bristling, they almost look like a single, big creature! Banded mongooses have been seen harassing an eagle that had caught one of them to the point where it dropped its intended victim, which escaped alive!

Within their territory, these mongooses will have several 'retreats' that they can flee to in time of danger. These can be holes dug in the ground, or hollow tree stumps, or any other kind of hole or tunnel. Like their relatives the Dwarf Mongooses, they are fond of holes in termite hills. They mark their territories with secretions from glands around their butts. The dominant male will be the most energetic scent-marker. He will even smear his scent over the other members of the band, thus marking them 'his'! They also exude their scent when banding together to drive off a predator. The scent reinforces their bonds with each other, and in this situation ensures that they stick together to counter the threat.

When the animal threatening them is too large and/or strong, they will run away instead. Though they mostly live on the ground, they will sometimes climb into trees to escape from a predator. Most of the time they will flee into their retreats.

Mongoose love making is a playful affair! The male and female will jump around, often jumping on each other, run together with their tails sticking in the air, chase each other in circles, head-bump each other or wrestle each other. The female scent-marks the male, and he smears his scent all over her. Finally they mate – this happens several times, with the male chasing the female around in between.

The female gives birth to up to six babies (but mostly around three) after a two-month gestation, in spring or early summer. They're born in the den, tiny, blind and almost hairless. In the den, the babies are suckled by all the females, with no distinction as to whose they are. Indeed, several females will typically give birth around the same time. The babies grow quite rapidly. Their eyes open at the age of ten days or so. As soon as they can, they start playing with each other and with all the other mongooses in the troop. The adult members will all groom them and bring them food items. While they're still small and vulnerable, at least one male will remain with them at the den for protection as the other mongooses set out to feed. At the age of three to four weeks, they start leaving the den and exploring the nearby vicinity, and by the age of five weeks they start accompanying the band on foraging excursions. Females are sexually mature at the age of ten months; males, a bit later. As the youngsters reach adulthood, many of them stay with their original bands, while many also leave to join other bands. This results in there being many blood bonds between bands in adjoining territories.

At present, the banded mongoose is widespread and abundant. Being fecund, adaptable and resourceful, it is one of the least likely species to go extinct.

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