11 September 2014

Grey Matters

I like to use my old Phablet in the mornings while eating breakfast, before going to work, to catch up on some nature blogs and "light-weight" news that might interest or entertain me. (I find "real" news to be just too depressing to waste my time on it.)

Yesterday morning the news article about a mongoose and lion having a confrontation caught my eye. It is actually fairly entertaining and you can see the full story and video over here.

Now, the reason for this post isn't to comment on the behaviour shown in the video itself, but instead triggered by the following statement from the article: "... the terrified marsh mongoose".

A Marsh Mongoose? Really...? Riiiight, sure, OK... ummm... I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with that. Unless the Marsh Mongooses in Kenya differ a lot from the ones over here in South Africa (and I'm pretty sure they don't), then I would not call that particular mongoose a Marsh Mongoose.

Sadly it is true that most people really do not care what kind of mongoose it is, or even whether the face of this earth was ever blessed by the pitter-patter of tiny mongoose feet at all. But since this is a nature blog I feel that I can get away with kicking up a bit of a fuss about the misidentification, to my hearts content. :)

If you are still reading this then you are one of the elite, the special few, that do care about knowing and appreciating nature, even if only ever so slightly. (If I am mistaken and you don't care then I don't know how you ended up on this blog, but I'll save you some trouble by informing you that you can safely stop reading now and continue to catch up on the "personal" "lives" of people being famous for being famous.)

Right, back to business. The Marsh Mongoose (aka Water Mongoose) has a huge distribution range. As a matter of fact they are also found all the way down here at the southern tip of Africa, roughly 4000+ km away from Kenya.

Lets first have a look at a real Marsh Mongoose. The photograph below was taken at Koeberg Nature Reserve just outside Cape Town, near Melkbosstrand.

A real Marsh/Water Mongoose (Kommetjiegatmuishond - Atilax paludinosus) at Koeberg

Ok, so to an untrained eye the mongoose in the video might look similar, but if you spend just a little time comparing the two you will notice many small differences.

The most obvious (and key) difference is the tail. The tail on the March Mongoose is rather short and "thick".

For more examples of a Marsh Mongoose have a look at some of my old blog posts over here.

I believe the true star of the video clip to be a Large Grey Mongoose. The Large Grey Mongoose (aka Egyptian Mongoose, aka Ichneumon) also has a huge distribution and can also be found from Kenya all the way down along the coast, right to the tip southern of Africa.

An old photo of a Large Grey Mongoose (Grootgrysmuishond - Herpestes ichneumon) from Tygerberg

How can I be so sure about the mongoose in the video? Well, the Large Grey Mongoose has a characteristic black brush at the end of it's tail, as can be seen from this photograph below which was recently taken at Koeberg.

The presence of longer black hair at the tip of the tail is a good sign that you are dealing with a Large Grey Mongoose

If the visual clues aren't enough then the behaviour can help to confirm the species. My books state that the Marsh Mongoose is mainly active at night, whereas the Large Grey Mongoose is largely active during the day. I fired up WildLog and pulled a quick report for both species. Yep, my camera trapping data confirms this as well.

The habitat can also be a good tool for identifying species. In this case both species like to hang around near streams and small ponds, but the Large Grey Mongoose tends to readily wander far away from water.

Now, I must admit that I'm not familiar with all the mongoose species found in eastern Africa, but over here in southern Africa the Large Grey Mongoose is the only large, greyish, diurnal mongoose with a black tipped tail.

For more examples of a Large Grey Mongoose have a look at some of my old blog posts over here.

Thus the Marsh Mongoose and Large Grey Mongoose are actually rather easy to tell apart. A much trickier matchup is the Small Grey Mongoose and Large Grey Mongoose. This old blog post over here covers both species.

My most recent batch of camera trap photographs from Koeberg contains a couple of photographs at one particular set which still have me scratching my head. There seems to be photos of a normal Small Grey Mongoose, then some of a very large Small Grey Mongoose and then some of a very small Large Grey Mongoose... I'm starting to think it might be a juvenile Large Grey Mongoose, but I'm not sure yet.

To be honest I'm still not 100% sure whether this is a small Large Grey Mongoose or a large Small Grey Mongoose

I enjoy trying to identify species and can spend hours staring at camera trap photographs of small mammals, trying to figure out what species they are most likely to be.


  1. Interesting story, thanks Henry!
    You are not alone in caring about such things :)