Field Note: Dwarf Mongoose

Africa's smallest carnivore makes its home at Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House.

Big Jobs for Small Mammals

The dwarf mongoose is Africa’s smallest carnivore. Adults grow to just 10 inches long and barely tip the scale at about 9 ounces. Abandoned termite mounds act like spacious condo towers for groups of up to 30 individuals, who use them as dens and to raise young.

Maintaining social order in a dwarf mongoose family is a precise business. Females are dominant. Males leave their natal group when they’re 2 or 3 years old while females usually stay put. Only one breeding pair may produce offspring. And siblings get stuck with babysitting duties when they’re mere pups themselves.

When a litter of four pups was born this past January to the dwarf mongoose family at Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House (SMRH), the babies didn’t stay in their nest box for long. They nursed as needed, but it wasn’t long before two siblings born just a couple months earlier started shuttling them around the savanna-style exhibit.

“The older kids needed a job,” says Curator Diane Mulkerin. “It’s the siblings’ responsibility to carry and care for the pups.” Duties include bringing the littlest ones crickets, mealworms, nutritional chow pellets, produce and grain.

Social interaction is so finely calibrated in the species that even brief changes can lead to territorial grudges. It only took 24 hours for the established hierarchy in a previous 16-member dwarf mongoose family at SMRH to fracture when the group was split up to facilitate annual medical checkups.

That isn’t the case with the current family, a curious group that gets along like a well-oiled machine and actively explores any enrichment introduced by keepers into the exhibit.

By Craig Keller • Published July 2, 2014 • Originally published in Summer 2014 Lincoln Park Zoo Magazine

Learn More

Dwarf mongooses get ready to board at Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House.

Animals Eat the Skyline at Chi-Cow-Go
The zoo celebrated Chicago’s 175th birthday with a bovine bash. The fun kicked off with the unveiling of a redesigned "Cows on Parade" statue before moving to the rest of the zoo with Chicago-themed animal enrichment. You can also watch a video of the fun!