19 Jul Dwarf Mongooses
Many people respond to the sighting of a pack of dwarf mongooses with cries of “cute,” and appealing they are, but these little creatures also have also have a sophisticated social system with some animals acting as baby-sitters, others as sentries and the pack even assisting injured colleagues by providing food.
The dwarf mongoose, it is Africa’s smallest carnivore and weighs 350-400 grammes and reaches about 250 mm in length, is a highly social, diurnal animal which lives in packs of up to 19 animals, although the average is nine or 10.
They hunt together, sleep together, usually in holes in termite mounds, and communicate throughout the day, making low chirping calls. The tiny animals, usually the males, share the role of standing sentry duty while the others feed, and if a predator is detected they make a variety of loud alarm calls, each call indicating the specific nature of the threat, be it a snake or other predator.
The dominant male and female in the pack monopolize breeding but biologist Scott Creel records that “although they rarely breed younger pack members assiduously help to raise the young of the dominant pair. The duties of these ‘helpers’ include grooming, feeding and carrying the young.”
Creel, in an article in The Complete Book of Southern African Mammals, notes that “Subordinate females sometimes provide a form of help as extreme as any found in the mammal world: four percent of females lactate and nurse the dominant’s young, even though they have never been pregnant.”
The young cannot forage until they are about two months old so “babysitters” remain behind to look after them while the pack goes out hunting for termites, beetles, larvae and sometime small reptiles and other animals.
Due to their small size they fall prey to a wide variety of predators including birds, snakes and mammals.