Mongoose pups conceal identity to survive

May 2, 2017
Mongoose pups may conceal their identity to avoid attack by adults they are not closely related to. Credit: Feargus Cooney

Young mongooses may conceal their identity—even from their own parents—to survive.

Killing of is common in mongoose social groups, and researchers from the University of Exeter believe offspring may do best if they hide which adults they are related to.

Concealing identity reduces the risk of attack by less-related adults, the researchers say.

But it means mothers may not be able to tell pups apart, and therefore cannot pay special attention to their own young.

"In most species we would expect mothers target care at their own offspring, but mongooses seem unable to do this," said Dr Emma Vitikainen, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

"We think this is because mothers synchronise birth to the same day, and pups may have evolved to conceal their identity.

"In the banded mongoose infanticide is common, and it might be too dangerous for the pups to advertise which adults they are most closely related to, as this could expose them to spiteful behaviour by less-related group members."

A system of adult "helpers" operates in groups, with adults often looking after pups that are not their own.

Mongoose pups may conceal their identity to avoid attack by adults they are not closely related to. Credit: Harry Marshall

They do not choose which young to care for based on relatedness, the researchers said.

Dr Vitikainen added: "Intriguingly, we also found that female helpers tend to pair up with female pups, and male helpers with male pups."The study also found that females become more likely to act as helpers after they have given birth.

Professor Michael Cant, who leads the long-term study of banded mongooses in Uganda said: "We know that among , individuals can discriminate kin from non-kin when it comes to mating and evicting rivals from the group.

"But for pups that are vulnerable to infanticide, anonymity may be the best strategy for all."

The paper, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is entitled: "Biased escorts: offspring sex, not relatedness explains alloparental care patterns in a cooperative breeder."

Explore further: Banded mongooses target family members for eviction

More information: Biased escorts: offspring sex, not relatedness explains alloparental care patterns in a cooperative breeder, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, rspb.royalsocietypublishing.or … .1098/rspb.2016.2384

Related Stories

Selfishness lasts a lifetime, according to mongoose study

July 21, 2015

Researchers studying wild banded mongooses in Uganda have discovered that these small mammals have either cooperative or selfish personalities which last for their entire lifetime. The findings of the 15-year study are published ...

Recommended for you

What makes tissue soft and yet so tough

November 20, 2017

Engineers at ETH Zurich have discovered that soft biological tissue deforms very differently under tension than previously assumed. Their findings are already being put to use in medical research projects.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

rrwillsj
1 / 5 (1) May 03, 2017
Does this mean I should be rooting for the cobra?

Though it is a trifle depressing to realize that so many animals treat their own kith and kin as miserably as humans do!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.