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Any of the 37 species of carnivores constituting the family Herpestidae, found in Africa, Asia, and southern Europe. Rudyard Kipling's famous Rikki-tikki-tavi was an Indian, or gray, mongoose (Herpestes edwardsii); the meerkat is also a member of the mongoose family. Species range from 7 to 35 in. (17 to 90 cm) long, excluding the furry 6–12-in. (15–30-cm) tail. Mongooses have short legs, a pointed nose, and small ears. Most species are active during the day. The gray to brown fur may have light flecks or dark markings. Mongooses live in burrows, alone, in pairs, or in large groups, and they eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, eggs, and fruit. A few species are semiaquatic. Though not immune to venom, some species attack and kill poisonous snakes by cracking the skull with a powerful bite.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on mongoose, visit Britannica.com.