Ring-Tailed Mongoose (Galidia elegans): A Red-Bodied, Striped-Tail Carnivore of Madagascar

by DerdriuMarriner

Which Malagasy carnivore to like best usually centers on the lemur or mongoose. Madagascar is worth the trip. But the ring-tailed mongoose also may be admired in the Bronx Zoo.

Scientists assert that 98% of the wildlife species on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar can be found existing natively nowhere else on the Blue Planet. They attribute to contrary weather and geographical isolation the pivotal factors in the emergence and persistence of Malagasy fauna and flora.

Movies and television generally convince Earthlings non-native to or unfamiliar with Madagascar that the lemur is the best-known and most high-profile example of biodiversity on the world’s fourth-largest island.

But the honor actually goes to the ring-tailed mongoose. Madagascar has a number of protected areas with which to enchant wildlife-loving locals, researchers, and visitors. The ring-tailed mongoose is present in many of the island’s most accessible, popular parks and reserves.

ring-tailed mongoose in captivity

Madagascar Exhibit, Bronx Zoo, New York
Madagascar Exhibit, Bronx Zoo, New York

 

Zoologists call the ring-tailed mongoose Galidia elegans. The genus name comes from a myth preserved by poet Publius Ovidius Naso (March 20, 43 B.C. – A.D. 18) in Book IX of Metamorphoses (Metamorphoseon libri). The story deals with the golden-tinted redhead serving girl Galanthias (Γαλινθιάς) whom super-goddess Hera turns into a weasel for ensuring the birth of super-hero Heracles to Alcmene and super-god Zeus. The species name derives from the Latin adjective ēlegāns for “elegant.” The scientific name is joined by such common names as:

  • Malagasy ring-tailed mongoose and ring-tailed mongoose in English;
  • Mangouste à queue annelée (“mangoose with ringed tail”) in French;
  • Vontsira mena (“red weasel”) in Malagasy.

The plural forms for mongoose include:

  • Mongaggle;
  • Mongeese;
  • Mongooses.

 

Researchers currently acknowledge three subspecies for the ring-tailed mongoose:

  • Galidia elegans elegans in eastern Madagascar;
  • G.e. dambrensis in northern Madagascar;
  • G.e. occidentalis in central and western Madagascar.

Membership in one subspecies over another answers to differences in geographical distribution and variations in body color.  All subspecies nevertheless are recognizable by:

  • Bushy, long, raccoon-like tail with 4 – 6 dark bands;
  • Long, slender body;
  • Rounded head with pointed snout and rounded small ears;
  • Short legs;
  • Webbed feet with smoothly hairless food pads and non-retractile short claws.

Chestnut, dark red, deep red-brown, and russet dominate as color options for body and tail. Black or brown prevails as possible feet, leg and ring-band colors. Olive tinges the chest, head, and throat.

 

I.Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, "Notice," Magasin de Zoologie, d'Anatomie Comparée et de Palaeontologie, ser. 2, vol. 1 (1839), Plate 14
I.Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, "Notice," Magasin de Zoologie, d'Anatomie Comparée et de Palaeontologie, ser. 2, vol. 1 (1839), Plate 14

 

Mating seasons, which are hypothesized as conducted monogamously, begin in April and end in November. Gestation periods can last 52 – 91 days. Each mother delivers one newborn -- who looks like a miniature adult -- between July and February. Three hundred and sixty-five (365) days distance each litter until each set of parents typically has a total of 3 offspring. Offspring exhibit birth weights of 1.76 ounces (49.9 grams) and weaning weights of 6.44 ounces (182.62 grams). They experience the joy of taking their first steps 2 weeks after birth. If the mother approves, the father first interacts with the latest addition to the family after the most recent offspring completes 1 month in the maternally-dug birthing-burrow.

 

Each newborn achieves physical maturity -- in terms of adult shapes and sizes – a year after birth. But offspring do not leave the family unit for another year. They enjoy traveling around during the day in family groups typically configured as:

  • Father;
  • Mother;
  • 3 “sub-adults.”

But they also have to dominate an extensive set of vocalizations, such as:

  • Growling during shriek-filled disagreements;
  • Grunting against predatory intrusions and territorial invasions;
  • Miaowing about successful foraging;
  • Riveting, directionally and frog-like, about casualty-less, cohesive forays.

They additionally keep busy at refining such survival skills as:

  • Digging night-time burrows;
  • Identifying nocturnally habitable tree cavities;
  • Navigating rivers and streams;
  • Rubbing anal scent gland emissions against logs, rocks, and vegetation;
  • Scaling trees and vines.

 

Ring-tailed Mongoose (Galidia elegans), Madagascar
Ring-tailed Mongoose (Galidia elegans), Madagascar

 

At age 2, offspring attain sexual maturity. They depart from the arboreal and terrestrial shelters of parents and younger siblings to start their own families on home ranges typically sized 0.077 square miles (0.2 square kilometers). They display the adult dimensions of:

  • 12.5 – 15 inches (31.75 – 38.1 centimeters) in head-and-body length;
  • 10.6 – 12.6 inches (26.92 – 32 centimeters) in tail length;
  • 24.69 – 31.75 ounces (700 – 900 grams) in weight.

They emerge daily in small groups formed by peers to:

  • Exercise;
  • Explore;
  • Forage;
  • Groom;
  • Play;
  • Socialize.

Newly-independent offspring generally face the lesser challenge of fewer mouths to feed. It still may be a challenge to locate:

  • Bird eggs;
  • Fish (especially freshwater crayfish);
  • Frogs;
  • Insects;
  • Reptiles;
  • Small mammals (especially tenrecs).

 

Independence can be succeeded by abbreviated lifespans or lowered standards. For example, specialists consider the typical lifespan for a ring-tailed mongoose as maxxing-out at about 6 – 7 years in the wild and 13 years in captivity. Agro-industry, competition, predation, and tradition contribute to lowering ring-tailed mongoose life expectancy and total population. The beauty of Malagasy space and the diversity of insular resources drive and sustain a host of cultural, economic and recreational endeavors. But clearing agricultural land and felling forest trees fragment and reduce habitats that historically support Madagascar’s diverse wildlife. They jumble predator and prey into closer quarters. They minimize traditional hiding-places for eluding local tribespeople ritually-bound upon obtaining the ring-tailed mongoose’s fur, meat and tail.

 

lowland streaked tenrec (Hemicentetes semispinosus): preyed upon by Galidia elegans

Andasibe-Mantadia National Park,  Alaotra-Mangoro Region, eastern Madagascar
Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, Alaotra-Mangoro Region, eastern Madagascar

 

Arboreal options, daytime schedules, ground control, and joyous omnivorousness act as key factors in the sustainability of the ring-tailed mongoose. The Malagasy ringtail adapts to many woody configurations:

  • Dry deciduous forests;

  • Forest edges near slash-and-burn agro-industrial sites;

  • Forested humid lowlands;

  • Primary and secondary-growth woodlands;

  • Wooded slopes.

Madagascar's ring-tailed mongoose appreciates wooded altitudes between 4,921.26 and 6,561.68 feet (1,500 and 2,000 meters). But elevations from sea level upwards are acceptable as long as arboreal lifestyles, daylight errand-running, ground access, and judicious omnivory continue unobstructed. The ring-tailed mongoose cooperates by compromising over food sources. For example, the Malagasy ringtail digests “people food” discarded by campers in primary forests. Any famished ring-tailed mongoose even may raid agro-industry- and village-raised chickens.

 

But opportunistic mealtimes and terrestrial opportunities ultimately are environmentally non-negotiable. The ring-tailed mongoose's obligate omnivousness and terrestrialism contribute to environmental balance. Opportunistic diets facilitate:

  • Population control;

  • Soil structure;

  • Understory well-being.

For example, the ring-tailed mongoose has to control claw and dental overgrowth through digging and gnawing. Regular commitment to building burrows is conducive to aerated, infiltrated and percolated soil pore spaces. Steady consumption of subterranean-, surface- and vegetation-dwelling organisms keeps pests in check. It lets plant roots and soil food web members access nutrients either inaccessible for being insoluble or unavailable for being inside arthropods. Timely coordination of eliminating swallowed seeds with optimal germination locations and times makes it likelier that Madagascar's future will remain lushly verdant.

 

Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (December 16, 1805 – November 10, 1861):

French zoologist credited with naming of Galidia elegans: a ringtail Malagasy mongoose which he considered to be elegant
architectural medallion, Rue Brancion, former Vaugirard horse market and slaughterhouse, Paris, 15th arrondissement
architectural medallion, Rue Brancion, former Vaugirard horse market and slaughterhouse, Paris, 15th arrondissement

Conclusion: Madagascar's ringtail mongoose, still elegant

 

The year 1837 can be considered felicitous for Malagasy ringtails. Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (December 16, 1805 – November 10, 1861) completed their analysis and classification. The Paris-born zoologist excelled at:

  • Mathematics;

  • Medicine;

  • Natural history.

He expounded:

  • Acclimatization, or adaptations of native and naturalized animals and plants;

  • Ethology, or animal behavior in nature, not laboratories;

  • Teratology, or expected and unexpected animal growth patterns.

His legacy is refined by nature-lovers and professionals who sustain the ring-tailed mongoose's researchable, viewable presence in collections worldwide and in such Malagasy protected areas as:

  • Amber Mountain, Andohahela, Ankarana, Bemaraha, Mantadia, Marojejy, and Ranomafana National Parks;

  • Analamazoatra Special Reserve;

  • Berenty Private Reserve;

  • Tsingy de Bemaraha Nature Reserve.

 

Madagascar's striking karstic plateaus (tsingys): Galidia elegans' protected homeland

Great Tsingy, Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, Melaky region, northwestern Madagascar
Great Tsingy, Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, Melaky region, northwestern Madagascar

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

ringtail mongoose in habitat
ringtail mongoose in habitat

Sources Consulted

 

Blench, R.M. and Walsh, M. June 27, 2009. Faunal Names in Malagasy: Their Etymologies and Implications for the Prehistory of the East African Coast. Prepared for ICAL IX Aussois, 21-25 June 2009. Retrieved on February 9, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.academia.edu/1691463/Faunal_names_in_Malagasy_their_etymologies_and_implications_for_the_prehistory_of_the_East_African_coast

"Bronx Zoo: Ring-tailed Mongoose." Wildlife Conservation Society. Retrieved on February 9, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.bronxzoo.com/animals-and-exhibits/animals/mammals/ring-tailed-mongoose.aspx

"Galidia elegans: I. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1837." In: ITIS. Integrated Taxonomic Information Systems. Retrieved on February 9, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=621875

"Galidia elegans: Ring-tailed Vontsira." Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved on February 9, 2014.

  • Available at: http://eol.org/pages/999164/overview

Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Isidore. "Notice sur deux nouveaux genres de Mammifères carnassiers, les Ichneumies, du continent africain, et les Galidies, de Madagascar." Magasin de zoologie, d'anatomie comparée et de palaeontologie, ser. 2, vol. 1 (1839): 1-39.

  • Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library at: http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/39898313

Gervais, P. 1854. Histoire naturelle des mammifères, avec l'indication de leurs moeurs, et de leurs rapports avec les arts, le commerce et l'agriculture. Paris: Libraire Curmer.

Hawkins, A.F.A. 2008. "Galidia elegans." In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. Retrieved on February 9, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/39426/0

Isaac T. Galidia elegans." Pioneer Union Elementary School District Virtual Zoo! February 2009. Retrieved on February 9, 2014.

  • Available at: http://pioneerunion.ca.schoolwebpages.com/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?sectiondetailid=3083

"Malagasy Ring-tailed Mongoose." ARKive. Retrieved on February 9, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.arkive.org/malagasy-ring-tailed-mongoose/galidia-elegans/

Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2014. "Galidia elegans: Ring-tailed Mongoose." The Animal Diversity Web (online). Retrieved on February 9, 2014.

  • Available at: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Galidia_elegans/specimens/

Nowicki, K. 2004. "Galidia elegans: Ring-tailed Mongoose" (On-line). Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved on February 9, 2014.

  • Available at: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Galidia_elegans/

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Book IX.

"Ring-Tailed Mongoose." The Animal Files. Retrieved on February 9, 2014. 

  • Available at: http://www.theanimalfiles.com/mammals/carnivores/mongoose_ring_tailed.html

"Ring-tailed Mongoose." The Website of Everything. Retrieved on February 9, 2014. 

  • Available at: http://thewebsiteofeverything.com/animals/mammals/Carnivora/Herpestidae/Galidia/Galidia-elegans.html

Saint-Hilaire, I.G. de. 1837. Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances l'Académie des Sciences 5:581.

Schnoell, A. V. 2012. Sighting of a Ring-tailed Vontsira (Galidia elegans) in the Gallery Forest of Berenty Private Reserve, Southeastern Madagascar. Malagasy Nature 6:125-126.

  • Available at:

    http://www.vahatra.mg/volume6/MN%206_Schnoell%202012_Galidia%20elegans.pdf

 

Ranomafana National Park, southeastern Madagascar
Ranomafana National Park, southeastern Madagascar
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Ringtail mongoose, Madagascar's Ankarana National Park ~ 3" snowflake glossy porcelain ornament: perfect as window decoration.

Image printed on both sides Gold string included for easy hanging.
Danita Delimont - N. Ringtail Mongoose

Galidia elegans' homeland -- Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (inscribed 1990): photo by Jean-Pierre De Mann

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box, 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle of Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve

Ringtailed Lemurs: Tan t-shirt, youth sizing

Two of Madagascar's iconic mammals: ring-tailed lemur and ring-tailed mongoose
Youth: Ringtailed Lemurs
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DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 12/05/2016, DerdriuMarriner
 
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DerdriuMarriner on 02/16/2014

Mira, You're welcome.

Mira on 02/13/2014

Wow, really nice explanation. Thank you!

DerdriuMarriner on 02/10/2014

Mira, Isn't it amazing that there are three acceptable plural forms of "mongoose"? "Mongaggle" seems particularly charming.
The rock formations comprise Madagascar's karstic landscape, which is another twist on karstic geomorphology (geographical and geological landforms). They're sculpted by groundwater into these bizarre shapes, for which the Malagasy language term is tsingy, basically meaning "a place where you cannot walk barefoot."

Mira on 02/10/2014

What on earth are those rock formations in that photo of Madagascar?
Interesting article, btw! And how curious that I never wondered about the plural of mongoose, a word which I see now has three plural forms!!

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