Mongoose is the common English name for 29 of the 34 species in the family Herpestidae, which comprises 14 genera. They are small carnivorans native to southern Eurasia and mainland Africa.
Mongoose has three dozen species of small bold predatory carnivores found mainly in Africa. Mongooses are noted for their audacious attacks on highly venomous snakes such as king cobras. The 33 species belong to 14 genera. The most common and probably best-known are the 10 species of the genus Herpestes, among which are the Egyptian mongoose of Africa and southern Europe and the Indian gray mongoose made famous as Rikki-tikki-tavi in Rudyard Kipling’s. The colloquial term mongoose may also include Malagasy mongooses—a group of five species found on the island of Madagascar that are closely related to fossas, falanoucs, and fanalokas and which most sources classify within the family Eupleridae.
Mongooses are short-legged animals with pointed noses, small ears, and long furry tails. The claws do not retract, and in most species there are five toes on each foot. The fur is gray to brown and is commonly grizzled or flecked with lighter gray. Markings, when present, include stripes, dark legs, and pale or ringed tails. The adult size varies considerably, with the smallest being the dwarf mongoose which measures 17–24 cm with a 15–20-cm tail. The largest mongoose is the white-tailed mongoose whose body length measure 48 to 71cm long with a tail that may extend up to an additional 47 cm.
Mongooses live in burrows and feed on small mammals, birds, reptiles, eggs, and occasionally fruit. A number of mongooses, especially those of the genus Herpestes, will attack and kill venomous snakes. They depend on speed and agility, darting at the head of the snake and cracking the skull with a powerful bite. Mongooses are bitten occasionally; however, they possess a glycoprotein that binds to proteins in snake venom, deactivating them and making them harmless.
A number of species are noted for their peculiar habit of opening eggs as well as other food items with hard shells. The animal stands on its hind legs and hits the egg against the ground. Sometimes it carries the egg to a rock and, standing with its back to the rock, throws the egg between its legs and against the rock until the shell is broken. Early reports of this behavior met with skepticism but have been verified by other observers. The Malagasy narrow-striped mongoose exhibits the same behavior but lies on its side and uses all four feet to toss the egg.
The mongoose emits a high- pitched nose, commonly known as giggling when it mates; Giggling is also heard during courtship. Communities of female banded mongooses synchronize their whelping to the same day to deter infanticide by dominant females.
It is not yet known how long a mongoose live in its natural habitat; however it is known that the average life span in captivity is 20years.