The littlest carnivore in Africa

If you were ever asked to give some examples of African carnivores, what animals come to mind? Animals like lions, cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs and hyenas were some of the first animals you thought of. But did you know that there are other, much smaller carnivores out there as well?

Can you guess what the smallest carnivore in Africa is?

They have a long slender body, weigh approximately 300g and are about 40cm long (a little bit longer than a ruler). The length of their tail is almost the size of their body.  They are normally dark brown, have large pointed heads and small ears.

It can be none other than the Dwarf Mongoose.

12 interesting facts about the Dwarf Mongoose you probably did not know:

  • Dwarf mongooses have a mutualistic relationship with red-billed and yellow-billed hornbills. They will often forage for insects together and warn each other if they see anything that might endanger them.
  • They live in groups that have between 8-30 members.
  • The plural of mongoose is mongooses – not mongeese.

  • Their front feet have long, curved claws that are perfectly designed for digging when they go foraging for food. They eat snails, termites, grasshoppers, beetles, scorpions, centipedes, reptiles and eggs.
  • They have incredible senses. They detect their prey through using sound and smell. Their vision is perfectly adapted for spotting aerial predators as they have horizontal elongated pupils that give them an enlarged visual field.
  • Within each group there is strict hierarchy with the Alpha pair dominating the group. This Alpha couple will mate for life, with the Alpha female leading the group.
  • Generally only the Alpha pair will breed. Sometimes a subordinate female will breed and have offspring. However, the survival rate of these offspring is very low as the alpha female will often kill these babies to give her offspring the best chance of survival. This is known as infanticide.
  • The Dwarg Mongoose’s Shangaan name is machiki-chorr.
  • Enemies of a Dwarf Mongoose include birds of prey, snakes and jackals (who see them as a tasty snack). Because of this, the alpha male is always on the lookout for danger.
  • Fork-tailed Drongos can sometimes be seen hanging around the Dwarf Mongooses. They like to wait for the Dwarf Mongoose to find a tasty snack and when the moment is right they will mimic an alarm call to steal the Dwarf Mongooses food. Why? Well they have figured out that animals like the dwarf mongoose won’t ignore alarm calls, even if that means that they will lose a tasty meal. Sneaky! This is called kleptoparasites.
  • They are nomadic, curious creatures that are a lot of fun to watch on a game drive. They are diurnal (day time animals). They move form den to den in search of food.  They like to sleep in old termite mounds but are equally at home in hollowed out trees or piles of stones.
  • Rough-scaled plated lizards also like to live with Dwarf Mongooses in termite mounds. Why? Because the lizards like to feed on the mongoose faecal matter.

So, next time someone asks you about carnivores in Africa don’t forget to mention the littlest one.