Egyptian mongoose

Egyptian mongoose
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Herpestidae
Subfamily: Herpestinae
Genus: Herpestes
Species: H. ichneumon
Binomial name
Herpestes ichneumon
(Linnaeus, 1758)
Egyptian mongoose range
(green – native, red – possibly introduced)

Viverra ichneumon Linnaeus, 1758

The Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon), also known as the ichneumon, is a species of mongoose. It may be a reservoir host for visceral leishmaniasis in Sudan.[2]

Range and habitat

This mongoose can be found in Egypt, Morocco, Libya, Spain, Portugal, Israel, and most of sub-Saharan Africa, except for central Democratic Republic of the Congo, and arid regions of southern Africa.

In Europe, it occurs mostly in the Iberian Peninsula, where it was previously thought to have been introduced during the Moorish occupation. However, recent genetic studies point towards a dispersal from Africa much earlier, during the Pleistocene.[3] It is known as "meloncillo" in Spanish and "sacarrabos" ("tail robber") in Portuguese.

It prefers to live in forests, savanna, or scrub, but never far from water.[4]


  • H. i. ichneumon
  • H. i. angolensis
  • H. i. cafra
  • H. i. centralis
  • H. i. funestus
  • H. i. mababiensis
  • H. i. numidicus
  • H. i. parvidens
  • H. i. sabiensis
  • H. i. sangronizi
  • H. i. widdringtonii


The Egyptian mongoose has a body 48–60 cm long, and a 33–54 cm tail. It weighs 1.7–4 kg.[5]

The Egyptian mongoose has a slender body, with a pointed snout and small ears. It has 35–40 teeth, with highly developed carnassials, used for shearing meat. Its long, coarse fur ranges in colour from grey to reddish brown and is ticked with brown or yellow flecks. Their tails have black tips. The hind feet and a small area around the eyes are furless.


Males and females become sexually mature at two years of age. Mating occurs in July or August, and after a gestation period of 11 weeks, the female gives birth to 2–4 young. Egyptian mongooses are blind and hairless when born, but open their eyes after about a week.[4]

The Egyptian mongoose is diurnal. It is often solitary, but can live in pairs or in groups of 3–7 animals, usually consisting of a male, several females, and their young.[5][6] Offspring are usually cared for up to 1 year, occasionally longer, though they are capable of foraging for themselves after 4 months, and are forced to compete for food brought back them after that age.[6]

Most wild mongooses live for 12 years. The longest lived captive mongoose was over 20 years old.[5]

Its diet consists mainly of meat, including rodents, fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Fruit and eggs are also popular food items; to crack it open, the latter is characteristically thrown between the legs against a rock or wall. Like other mongooses, the Egyptian mongoose will attack and eat venomous snakes. They have shown a high level of resistance to three species of venomous snake Vipera palaestinae, Walterinnesia aegyptia & Naja nigricollis.[7]

In some rural areas of Egypt, such as upper Egypt, it is bred as a household pet.


The Egyptian mongoose is extremely numerous. While its numbers threaten other species, it is not at risk of extinction.[5]

In ancient Egyptian culture and art

In Egyptian mythology, Ra would metamorphose into a giant ichneumon ("over 24 metres") to fight the evil god-snake Apopis. Ichneumon worship has been attested in several cities: Heliopolis, Buto, Sais, Athribis, Bubastis, Herakleopolis Magna, etc. Numerous ichneumon mummies have been found.[8] One of the tombs at the Beni Hasan cemetery has a depiction of a mongoose on a lead.[9]

Cultural references

John Greenleaf Whittier, American poet, wrote a poem as an elegy for an ichneumon, which had been brought to Haverhill Academy (1827-1841) in Haverhill, Massachusetts, in 1830. The long lost poem was published in the November 20, 1902 issue of "The Independent" Magazine.

In Christopher Smart's poem, Jubilate Agno, the poet's cat Jeoffry was praised in line 63: "For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land," for a purported attack on an Egyptian mongoose.

See also


  1. Herrero, J.; Cavallini, P. & Palomares, F. (2008). "Herpestes ichneumon". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2008. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 22 March 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of least concern
  2. "The Egyptian mongoose, Herpestes ichneumon, is a possible reservoir host of visceral leishmaniasis in eastern Sudan". Retrieved 2007-04-17.
  3. Balmori, A.; Carbonell, R. (2012). "Expansion and distribution of the Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) in the Iberian Peninsula". Galemys. 24: 83–85.
  4. 1 2 "Blue Planet Biomes". Retrieved 2007-04-17.
  5. 1 2 3 4 "Animal Diversity Web: Herpestes ichneumon". Retrieved 2007-04-17.
  6. 1 2 Estes, Richard Despard (1991). The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates. University of California Press. pp. 298–302. ISBN 0-520-08085-8.
  7. Ovadia, M. and Kochva. E. (1977) Neutralization of Viperide and Elapidae snake venoms by sera of different animals. Toxicon 15. 541-547.
  8. Jean-Pierre Corteggiani, L'Égypte ancienne et ses dieux. Dictionnaire illustré, p. 227, Fayard, 2007
  9. Jarus, Owen (9 May 2017). "Tomb Drawing Shows Mongoose on a Leash, Puzzling Archaeologists". Live Science. Retrieved 9 August 2017.
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