A mongoose is a carnivorous mammal in the family Herpestidae, which also includes meerkats. The small mammals are perhaps most famous for their snake killing skills in India, where they are sometimes kept as pets. The family was immortalized in Rikki Tikki Tavi, a story about a mongoose written by Rudyard Kipling. In many parts of the world, the animal is considered lucky, probably because of its formidable skills as a predator.
The name comes from the Marathi language of India, in which the animal is known as a mangus. Since the mongoose is not in any way shape or form related to geese, there is some debate about the appropriate pluralization of the animal. Some people prefer “mongeese,” standardizing the animal with the plural of “goose,” while others use “mongooses.” Both are technically correct, although many people find the second to be an awkward construction.
Around 40 species of animal are considered to be mongeese. All of them have elongated bodies, long tails, and short legs, with pointed snouts and small, curved ears. The claws are well suited for digging, as is the construction of the animal's body. Many species can fold their ears so that dirt does not penetrate them while digging, and none is able to retract its sharp claws.
Asia, Africa, and parts of Europe all host these mammals. They feed on small mammals, snakes, insects, and sometimes fruits and seeds as well. Despite their small size, they are excellent hunters, making them popular animals to have around in areas that are beset by mice and other small pests. In fact, the animals are such efficient hunters that they have been banned from the United States out of concern that they might threaten native animal species. Some biologists consider the mongoose to be among the most destructive introduced species, since it can devastate native animal populations.
The slender, agile animals are kept as pets in many regions, since they are relatively easy to domesticate and serve a useful function. Their famous fighting abilities against snakes have made them popular with snake charmers, who may use the animals in mock fights. Contrary to popular belief, the mongoose is not impervious to snake venom — the animals have simply evolved a system for killing snakes without being bitten. They also generally do not eat the snakes they kill, and only kill them as a defensive measure.