By Annette J Beveridge
Nature holds many secrets. By glimpsing inside the everyday life of certain species, it enables us a much stronger interaction and connection with the natural world. Most mongoose species live solitary lives but the banded mongoose is different as they live in colonies with complex social structures. They make use of dens – including termite mounds and colonies may have up to 40 animals although can be larger on occasion.
Native in the Sahel to Southern Africa, these animals thrive in open forests, grasslands, and savannas. Food is varied from millipedes to beetles and they will take small reptiles, birds, ants, crickets, and caterpillars. On occasion, small snakes will also be on the menu. Foraging takes place in the morning and late afternoon, so they avoid being out in the heat of the day. With a keen sense of smell, they dig up their prey using powerful claws and often monitor the piles of dung made by herbivores as these attract beetles.
These are sturdy animals with short but muscular limbs. The head is large, they have small ears but a tail that almost equals the length of the body. Banded mongoose have rough fur which is a grey/brown to black colour and darker horizontal bars streak across the back.
Banded mongoose are prolific breeders – breeding up to 4 times a year. Dominant males will aggressively defend females from the subordinates and chase the female. The aim is to circle her with his tail up high which covers her with anal gland secretions. Females also participate in courtship displays rolling onto their back and wrestling with males. They will often mate with several males.
Gestation lasts for 2 months. There is a synchrony between the females where they typically give birth on the same day. Litters will have 2-6 young and they are completely vulnerable and blind for the first 10 days. Synchrony ensures an evenness throughout the colony. If they do not give birth at the same time, the litter may fail. When one pup is born earlier, the other females know that it is not theirs and could try to kill it as it would have an advantage over the others. If a pup arrives late, it will be under-developed by comparison and disadvantaged. All members of the pack carry the young and any lactating female will feed the young whether hers or not.
Guarded by a male babysitter, the pups remain safe in the den for about a month after birth. After this time, they join the adults for foraging trips. Females reach sexual maturity at 9-10 months old.
Scent is important to the banded mongoose and they mark the den extensively. There is a communal area with separate chambers and a series of entry/exit holes. At night, the group huddles together in their underground dens for safety. The colony will not stay in the same den for more than 2-3 nights. The pack emerge an hour or so after dawn gently sniffing the air to check whether it is safe. After this, they move to a common latrine before starting to groom each other.
These are highly territorial animals but it is often the females that lead the group into conflict so that they can mate with males outside of the group. They do this while their own males are distracted. Research has shown that fights increase during the times when the females are in heat. This is known as exploitive leadership because the females benefit but the group generally suffers and male adults and pups will be killed more than the females at these times.
Banded mongoose when threatened…
If a predator comes too close, the colony groups together and move as one which gives the impression of a larger animal. They stand on their hind legs and will often lunge towards the predator snapping at them aggressively. Birds of prey, snakes and medium-sized carnivores will attempt to prey on them but their collective behaviour wards off some attackers.
Find out much more about wild animals by signing up for our Hive Collective Membership. We help you to expand your knowledge and enable you to increase your love of the natural world.