The Dwarf Mongoose, the smallest of the mongoose family, is a typical mongoose: It has a large pointed head, small ears, a long tail, short limbs, and long claws.
The species can be distinguished from other mongooses by its size. It is much smaller than most other species (18 to 28 cm, 210 to 350 grams). In fact, it is Africa's smallest carnivore. The soft fur is very variable in color, ranging from yellowish red to very dark brown. Total length is 250 mm and the tail is about the same length as the body. Their coat colour is uniform all over, and can be light brown to a dark chestnut. They prefer dry woodland savanna, are more widespread in northern countries, the southernmost limits being in the woodlands of the Northern and Northwestern Provinces, Mpumalanga and northern Kwazulu-Natal.
Dwarf mongooses live in a group of 12 to 15 individuals, which cover a range of approximately 75 acres that overlap with the ranges of other groups. A range usually contains 20 or more termite mounds, which are used as den sites, lookout posts and sources of food. Nearby they will make a communal latrine for both urine and faeces. The mongoose is nomadic, and groups seem to be constantly on the move through their range, seldom using a den site for more than a few days at a time.
Unlike larger species of mongoose, they do not band together when they feel threatened. Instead they let out a warning cry and run to safety. However, if the young are being threatened, especially by the slender mongoose, they will band together and try and warn off the potential predator.
Each dwarf mongoose group is led by a dominant female and her male consort, usually the oldest animals in the group. The rest of the group is composed of family members, generally older offspring of the dominant pair. Each year the alpha female produces three litters of young, with two to four infants in each litter. The young of the dominant female are second in the group’s social system, and the mother spends little time with her young other than suckling them. They are tended for and cosseted by subordinate members. However, this status is immediately lost upon arrival of a new litter. The babysitters, (even subordinate males), who guard and defend the young, change often during the day so that individuals may forage for food.They are weaned when they are around 45 days old, and are able to go out with the group by the time they reach 6 months old. They reach sexual maturity at 3 years old, but social pressure prevents them from doing so.
Subordinate breeding females, which come into oestrus at the same time as the dominant female, mate with subordinate males in the pack, but such mating seldom produce live young. It is not certain if they fail to conceive or abort early in pregnancy. In the rare instances when they do produce live young, the newborns are believed to either have died quickly or been killed.
The diet of the Common Dwarf Mongoose consists of insects (mainly beetle larvae, termites, grasshoppers and crickets), spiders, scorpions, small lizards, snakes, small birds, and rodents, and is supplemented very occasionally with berries. Insect prey is scavenged on the ground, and sometimes dug out. Small vertebrates are also taken on occasion. Troop members are always on the alert for predators while foraging. They are eaten in some regions of Africa, and are sometimes persecuted as an egg thief despite their ability to keep rat populations down.
A mutualistic relationship has evolved between Dwarf Mongooses and hornbills, in which hornbills seek out mongooses in order to forage together and warn each other of nearby birds of prey and other predators.
Facts researched on the Internet; text by Dile Seitz.