Dwarf mongoose: 10 facts about the lowveld’s smallest carnivore

Posted by Lauren Dold on 16 September 2021

Dwarf mongooses may seem like unassuming bushveld critters, but in reality they are complex social creatures who have strict hierarchical rules, communicate intelligently and don’t think twice about eating a scorpion. Here are 10 things you might not know about these small but mighty carnivores.

Credit: Bernard du Pont

1) They may not be thought of as meat eating predators, but dwarf mongooses are the smallest carnivores found in the lowveld. Their diet consists mainly of insects, including termites, locusts, beetles, centipedes and even scorpions, but they will also kill and eat reptiles like snakes and lizards. Dwarf mongooses will also eat eggs, and even snails!

2) Dwarf mongooses are very social animals, living in cooperative groups of between 12 and 20 animals. Their collective effort (more eyes and ears!) helps increase the chances of survival for all individuals, as they have coordinated warning systems that help them stay safe.

3) They have a strict hierarchy within the group, dominated by an alpha male and female. The other members of the group perform duties and tasks according to their rank, like grooming, keeping guard, and transporting the young. 

4) Female dwarf mongooses dominate males, with the alpha female being the largest mongoose in the group.

5) Dwarf mongooses are only as strong as their weakest member, and all members of the group help raise the young, even though only the alpha male and female breed. Other females may even lactate to help feed the young, but may have their own offspring killed by the alpha female if they happen to breed.

6) In the event that an alpha male or female dies, the mongoose that is next in the hierarchy will take over the role. If this position is disputed, a kind of “grooming contest” ensues, where two mongooses will groom one another constantly until one eventually gives up, covered in saliva. 

7) Dwarf mongooses operate in a territory that is usually around 1km squared, and within this territory they will have many bolt holes where they can hide and sleep. These are usually ant hills or termite mounds, and they will visit all of these spots throughout their territory, foraging as they go along and sleeping in different places. This ensures that they maintain a sustainable territory, and reduces pressure on their food sources.

8) The Shangaan name for dwarf mongoose is “machiki-chorr,” named for one of their many vocalisations. They communicate with one another almost constantly, emitting a continuous stream of peeps churrs and chatters, as they move as a unit through the veld.

9) Dwarf Mongooses have a special relationship with the yellow billed hornbill. The two species forage together, with the hornbills swooping in on insects that the mongooses flush out of the veld, and the hornbills in turn giving the mongooses warning in instances of danger. This warning service allows the mongooses to focus more on finding food, as they don’t have to be so alert. Hornbills will even wait for dwarf mongooses to emerge from their sleeping holes in the morning, and are sometimes so impatient that they will make a racket in an effort to get the mongooses up.

10) Dwarf mongooses have very sharp senses, relying on their sense of smell and hearing to locate prey, which they usually dig for with their sharp claws. They also have excellent eyesight, adapted to spot even predators that prey on them from above like raptors. They have elongated pupils, which affords them a greater visual field.


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