The Small Indian Mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus) has sometimes been treated as conspecific with H. javanicus, but recent phylogenetic work has supported its treatment as a distinct species (Veron et al. 2006; Patou et al. 2009; Gilchrist et al. 2009). This mongoose was widely introduced to islands in the Caribbean, Fiji, Japan, and elsewhere to control rodents and snakes. Unfortunately, it has been highly effective at eliminating native reptiles, birds, and mammals in many areas where it has been introduced. It is also a vector of rabies and other diseases. (Gilchrist et al. 2009)
Herpestes auropunctatus is reportedly diurnally active across at least most of its native and introduced range. In Mauritius, rest sites are reportedly mainly in fallen trees and holes in tree root systems. In India, they are reported to use burrows they dig themselves. (Gilchrist et al. 2009 and references therein)
Herpestes auropunctatus tend to be solitary, but at least in regions where it has been introduced, individuals are often seen in close proximity to each other. Home range on St. Croix has been reported to be 2.2 hectares for females and 4.2 hectares for males. On Oahu (Hawaii) female home range was reported to be 1.4 hectares for 7 females and 19.2 hectares for 5 males (during the breeding season); intra-sexual home range overlap was 84% for males and 37% for females, with a large overlap between male and female ranges. Both males and females frequently changed dens on successive nights, with the exception of females with pups. Other studies have reported home ranges of 22 to 39 hectares (Fiji Islands), 25 to 100 hectares (Hawaii), 3.2 to 19.4 hectares (Puerto Rico), and 25 to 110 hectares (Mauritius). (Gilchrist et al. 2009 and references therein)
Both males and females scent-mark their home range with secretions from their anal glands and are able to distinguish the scent-marks of other individuals. These mongooses produce a diverse suite of vocalizations. They are able to climb, but are rarely observed far from the ground. (Gilchrist et al. 2009 and references therein)
This is the smallest of the Asian mongooses, with a head-body length of 25 to 37 cm, tail length of 19 to 29 cm, and weight of 305 to 662 g. Males are larger than females. Coat color varies from buff to rufous or dark yellowish gray; the hairs have light and dark rings, giving the coat a grizzled appearance. (Gilchrist et al. 2009) See Gilchrist et al. (2009) for a basic technical description of the morphology of this species.
Herpestes auropunctatus occurs in forest, scrub, and open habitats. It is also found close to human dwellings. A study in Mauritius found that woodland and scrub regions were favored over other habitats and, at larger spatial scales, riverine and dense forest were preferred. (Gilchrist et al. 2009 and references therein)
Simberloff et al. (2000) examined size variation in the maximum diameter of the upper canine tooth (the prey-killing structure) and skull length of the "Small Indian Mongoose" ("Herpestes javanicus") in the western part of its range, where it is sympatric with one or both of two slightly larger congeners (H. edwardsii and H. smithii), versus the eastern part of its range, where these congeners are absent. According to Simberloff et al. (Simberloff et al. 2000 and references therein), the Small Indian Mongoose was introduced more than a century ago to the West Indies, the Hawaiian Islands, Mauritius, the Fijian Islands, and Okinawa. All of these introductions, with the possible exception of Mauritius, involved small numbers of individuals from the region of Calcutta and Bangladesh, where this mongoose is sympatric with both congeners in question. According to Simberloff et al., in the eastern (allopatric) part of its native range, males of the Small Indian Mongoose are much larger in both measured traits than in the western (sympatric) regions, approaching the size of the smaller of its absent two congeners, H. edwardsii. Females from the allopatric part of the range are also larger than those of the source region, but the species is more sexually dimorphic in the region of allopatry. On all islands to which it has been introduced, in 100 to 200 generations the Small Indian Mongoose has increased in male size and in sexual dimorphism, although changes in female size have been slight and inconsistent. In general, sizes of island individuals are approximately intermediate in size between those in the region of origin (where they are smaller and sympatric with similar-sized congeners) and those in the region of allopatry, where they are larger. Simberloff et al. argue that the "Small Indian Mongoose" shows morphological variation that is at least consistent with ecological release from competition with its congeners (however, they do not claim that they have conclusively demonstrated ecological character release--morphological change resulting from the lifting of competitively induced selection--and carefully discuss what additional data are required). They note that, in contrast to the pattern seen with the Small Indian Mongoose, neither of the two congeneric mongooses in question show morphological variation consistent with ecological release from competition with "H. javanicus" in the southern part of their ranges, where the latter species is absent.
Simberloff et al. (2000) accepted the then prevailing view that H. auropunctatus is conspecific with H. javanicus and thus interpreted size variation between these forms as likely reflecting interspecific competition (or its absence) with H. edwardsii and H. smithii. As noted above, these authors reported that a size difference occurs in both sexes (although more pronounced in males), and observed greater sexual dimorphism in the eastern population, where competition with other similar sized mongooses (H. edwardsii and H. smithii) did not occur. However, based on phylogenetic analyses by Veron et al. (2006) and Patou et al. (2009), the eastern population is a different taxon (recognized as H. auropunctatus) than the one that occurs in sympatry with H. edwardsii and H. smithii (which, they note, do not show the same morphological variation in the parts of their range where H. auropunctatus is absent). Thus, it appears necessary to reconsider the conclusions by Simberloff et al. (2000) regarding the character displacement and release in the Small Indian/Javan mongoose, at least in their native range. Nevertheless, character release does seem to occur in introduced populations of the Small Indian Mongoose, as shown by Simberloff et al. (2000), but Veron et al. (2006) note that such studies would benefit from clarification of the systematic situation.
The natural range of Herpestes auropunctatus extends across much of Central Asia (see details in Veron et al. 2007 and Gilchrist et al. 2009). It is also found in the West Indies and northeastern South America, Mauritius, Fiji (which has also been colonized by H. fuscus, Patou et al. 2009), Okinawa, and several Adriatic Islands, where it was introduced for biological control of rodents and snakes (Tvrtkovic and Krystufek1990; Simberloff et al. 2000; Veron et al. 2007). According to Simberloff (2000), mongooses introduced to the West Indies and Fijian islands came from India while Japanese (Okinawa) mongooses originated from Bangladesh. Tvrtkovic and Krystufek (1990) review the history of importation of H. auropunctatus from India to the Adriatic islands to control snakes.
The closely related H. javanicus occurs throughout Southeast Asia. The Salween River in Burma may act as a geographic barrier, with H. auropunctatus occurring to the west and H. javanicus to the east. The third member of this group of three closely related mongooses, H. edwardsii, occurs largely in sympatry with H. auropunctatus, but is not sympatric with H. javanicus (Veron et al. 2007).
Herpestes auropunctatus is omnivorous. Diet has been studied mainly in parts of its range where it has been introduced. This mongoose has been reported to feed on reptiles, invertebrates, rodents and other small mammals, birds, and even fruit. (Gilchrist et al. 2009 and references therein; Lewis et al. 2010 and references therein) Rodents, birds, and snakes are killed quickly by driving the canines into the brain and vertebral column. Centipedes and scorpions are are bitten and repeatedly tossed before being consumed. Two individuals were reportedly observed working together to capture Matapograpsus messor crabs in Hawaii, with one mongoose turning over a stone and exposing a crab that the other could then attack. Individuals generally avoid water more than a few centimeters deep. (Gilchrist et al. 2009 and references therein)
Breeding data come mainly from captive animals. Ovulation is induced by copulation. Estrus lasts 3 to 4 days (full cycle around 3 weeks). Mean litter size is 2 (range 1 to 5), with 2 to 3 litters per year. Both sexes are polygamous and may copulate several times a day in the absence of estrus and more frequently during estrus. Birth weight is around 21 g. The eyes of newborns are closed, opening 17 and 20 days. By 22 weeks, all the permanent teeth are in place. Two thirds of adult body mass is attained by 4 moths and sexual maturity is reached at 1 year. The first excursion out of the den occurs at around 4 weeks and the young follow the mother on hunting trips at 6 weeks. Spermatogenesis in the male begins at around 400 g; the baculum ("penis bone") reaches adult size and mass at 5 months or when the male's weight reaches around 500 g. (Gilchrist et al. 2009 and references therein)
Simberloff et al. (2000) compiled literature on major dietary items in Herpestes javanicus (sensu lato) populations around the world. More recently, Lewis et al. (2010) studied the diet of the Small Indian Mongoose on the island of Jamaica in the West Indies.
Evolution and Systematics
Systematics and Taxonomy
Using analyses of mitochondrial DNA from a small subset of mongooses, Veron et al. (2007) concluded that the Javan Mongoose (Herpestes javanicus) and Small Indian Mongoose (H. auropunctatus) are two distinct species, whereas previously, based on morphological features, they have often been considered to be conspecific. Furthermore, H. javanicus was found to be sister to H. edwardsii rather than H. auropunctatus. In a broader investigation, Patou et al. (2009) reconstructed the phylogeny of the mongooses (Herpestidae) using several mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequences from nearly all recognized mongoose species. The Asian mongooses were recovered as a monophyletic group, but within this group cytonuclear conflicts were observed among Herpestes auropunctatus, Herpestes edwardsii, and Herpestes javanicus, possibly as a result of past hybridization. As in the earlier work by Veron et al., H. javanicus and H. auropunctatus formed two distinct clades. Although the mitochondrial tree agreed with the finding by Patou et al. that H. javanicus and H. edwardsii are sister taxa, the nuclear analysis indicated that H. auropunctatus (rather than H. edwardsii) is sister to H. javanicus.
The Small Indian Mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus) is a widely introduced predator that is often considered to be among the world's most destructive invasive species. It is is an opportunistic diurnal forager that will take a variety of animal (and some plant) prey, but appears to have impacted island reptiles and ground-nesting birds most dramatically. This mongoose was introduced to Jamaica from Calcutta in 1872 for the purpose of controlling rats on sugar cane plantations. In the original introduction, nine animals were released (four males and five females, one of which was believed to be pregnant). The population expanded rapidly and Jamaica soon became a source for the introduction of this mongoose to other Caribbean islands, as well as to the Hawaiian islands. For Jamaica alone, circumstantial evidence suggests that the extinction of six endemic vertebrates and the decline of various other species can be attributed to this exotic predator. One lizard (Giant Galliwasp, Celectus occiduus) and one snake (Black Racer, Alsophis ater) both disappeared around the time of the mongoose introduction, as did three bird taxa (Jamaican Petrel, Pterodroma hasitata caribbaea; Jamaican Uniform Crake, Amaurolimnas concolor concolor; Jamaican Poorwill, Siphonorhis americanus), and one of the island’s two native land mammals (the Jamaican rice rat, Oryzomys antillarum). Although none of these extinctions can clearly be attributed to the mongoose, this mongoose has clearly been responsible for extinctions on a number of Pacific and Caribbean islands (see Lewis et al. 2010 and references therein). Lewis et al. (2010) used stomach contents analysis and observation to study mongoose diet in Jamaica. They found that their study animals were voracious predators of lizards (including at least two rare and threatened species!) and invertebrates, but also fed opportunistically on birds, rodents, and fruit. Lewis et al. argue that the case against the mongoose as a primary cause of extinctions and population declines of native species on islands where it has been introduced is strong and they therefore advocate large-scale trapping or other mongoose eradication programs to reduce or reverse further losses. (Simberloff et al. 2000; Lewis et al. 2010 and references therein)