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)

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, Spain, Portugal, Palestine, and most of sub-Saharan Africa, except for central Democratic Republic of the Congo, western South Africa, and Namibia.

In Europe, it occurs mostly in the Iberian Peninsula, where it would have been introduced during the Arab occupation (which lasted, in whole, from 711 AD through 1492 AD, though more markedly in certain southern areas).[3] The Moors may have imported this mongoose, and probably also the genet (Genetta genetta), to hunt rats. Some individuals, escaping captivity, would have become feral. 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]


Egyptian mongoose skull

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 and lives in small groups of 1–7 animals, usually consisting of a male, several females, and their young. Male offspring usually leave the group before they are a year old; females stay longer, and may not leave at all.[5]

Most wild mongooses live for 12 years. The longest lived captive mongoose was over 20 years old.[6]

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.[6]

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]

Examples of ancient Egyptian representations
Standing Herpestes ichneumon, with uraeus and solar disc. Bronze, Ptolemaic era. 
Standing Herpestes ichneumon. Bronze, Ptolemaic era. 
A Late period ichneumon dedicated to the goddess Wadjet. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. 

Cultural references

John Greenleaf Whittier, American poet, wrote a poem as an elegy for an ichneumon, which had been brought to Haverhill Academy in Haverhill, New Hampshire, 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


Wikispecies has information related to: Herpestes ichneumon
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Herpestes ichneumon.
Wikisource has the text of The New Student's Reference Work article Ichneumon.
  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. Detry, Cleia; Bicho, Nuno; Fernandes, Hermenegildo; Fernandes, Carlos (2011). "The Emirate of Córdoba (756–929 AD) and the introduction of the Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) in Iberia: the remains from Muge, Portugal". Journal of Archaeological Science. 38 (12): 3518–3523. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2011.08.014.
  4. 1 2 "Blue Planet Biomes". Retrieved 2007-04-17.
  5. 1 2 "Lioncrusher's Domain". Retrieved 2007-04-17.
  6. 1 2 "Animal Diversity Web: Herpestes ichneumon". Retrieved 2007-04-17.
  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
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