The English word "mongoose" used to be spelled "mungoose" in the 18th and 19th centuries. The name is derived from names used in India for Herpestes species:mu?g?s or ma?g?s in classical Hindi;mu?g?sa in Marathi;mungisa in Telugu;mungi, mungisi and munguli in Kannada.
The form of the English name (since 1698) was altered to its "-goose" ending by folk etymology. The plural form is "mongooses".
Mongooses have long faces and bodies, small, rounded ears, short legs, and long, tapering tails. Most are brindled or grizzly; a few have strongly marked coats which bear a striking resemblance to mustelids. Their nonretractile claws are used primarily for digging. Mongooses, much like goats, have narrow, ovular pupils. Most species have a large anal scent gland, used for territorial marking and signaling reproductive status. The dental formula of mongooses is .
They range from 24 to 58 cm (9.4 to 22.8 in) in head-to-body length, excluding the tail. In weight, they range from 320 g (11 oz) to 5 kg (11 lb).
In 1989, zoologist W. Christopher Wozencraft noted that while the phylogenetic relationships in Mungotinae were obscure, studies in the latter part of 20th century supported two monophyleticclades in Herpestinae: one consisting of Atilax and Herpestes, and the other comprising Bdeogale, Ichneumia and Rhynchogale. Like other feliformian carnivorans, mongooses descended from the viverravines, which were civet- or genet-like mammals.
The phylogenetic relationships of Herpestidae are shown in the following cladogram:
The Indian gray mongoose and others are well known for their ability to fight and kill venomous snakes, particularly cobras. They are adept at such tasks due to their agility, thick coats, and specialized acetylcholine receptors that render them resistant or immune to snake venom. However, they typically avoid the cobra and have no particular affinity for consuming its meat.
Some species can learn simple tricks. They can be semi-domesticated and are kept as pets to control vermin. However, they can be more destructive than desired. When imported into the West Indies to kill rats, they destroyed most of the small, ground-based fauna. For this reason, it is illegal to import most species of mongooses into the United States, Australia, and other countries. Mongooses were introduced to Hawaii in 1883 and have had a significant adverse effect on native species.[better source needed]
Cynictis penicillata mating
The mongoose emits a high-pitched noise, commonly known as giggling, when it mates. Giggling is also heard during courtship.[better source needed] Communities of female banded mongooses (Mungos mungo) synchronize their whelping to the same day to deter infanticide by dominant females. The females are also known to initiate fights among rival females and then mating with the males.
It is not yet known how long a mongoose lives in its natural habitat; however, it is known that the average lifespan in captivity is twenty years.
Relationship with humans
In ancient Mesopotamia, mongooses were sacred to the deity Ningilin, who was conflated with Ningirima, a deity of magic who was invoked for protection against serpents. According to a Babylonian popular saying, when a mouse fled from a mongoose into a serpent's hole, it announced, "I bring you greetings from the snake-charmer!" A creature resembling a mongoose also appears in Old Babylonian glyptic art, but its significance is not known.
According to Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (1.35 & 1.87), Egyptians venerated native mongooses (Herpestes ichneumon) for their ability to handle venomous snakes and for their occasional diet of crocodile eggs. The Buddhist god of wealth Vai?rava?a, or Dzambala for Tibetans, is frequently depicted holding a mongoose that is spitting jewels from its mouth. The Hindu god of wealth, Kubera (being the son of Vishrava ("Fame"), Kubera is also called Vaisravana), is often portrayed holding a mongoose in his left hand, hence the sight of a mongoose is considered lucky by some.
Mongooses are a common spectacle at roadside shows in Pakistan. Snake charmers keep mongooses for mock fights with snakes. This practice is looked at as unethical and cruel across the rest of the world.
On Okinawa (where mongooses were misguidedly brought in to control the local habu snake), mongoose fights with these highly venomous snakes (Ovophis okinavensis and Trimeresurus flavoviridis) in a closed perimeter were presented as spectator events at such parks as Okinawa World; however, due to pressure from animal rights activists, the spectacle is less common today.
The mongoose is a prohibited animal in the United States. However, the 1962 case of "Mr. Magoo" became an exception. It was brought to Duluth, Minnesota by a merchant seaman and faced being euthanized. A public campaign to save it resulted in the intervention of Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, who exempted Magoo from the regulations. Magoo lived on display as the most popular attraction of the Lake Superior Zoo, dying of old age in 1968.
Pablo Neruda had a pet mongoose named Kiria while he lived in Colombo. Kiria had the habit of following the poet everywhere. However, after Neruda moved to Batavia, Kiria disappeared and was never seen again.
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