As you spend more time observing animal behaviour, you often start to wonder what life is like from their perspective. The discussion usually leads to a comparison of predators versus prey, nocturnal versus diurnal, or what it must be like to be a giant elephant or towering giraffe in comparison to a stealthy leopard and down to the little squirrels or the dung beetles. So when the topic came up on what the bush would be like from a dwarf mongoose perspective, as one of the rangers on the team that doesn’t exactly exude height, I thought this would be a suitable topic for me to explore.
With a male dwarf mongoose weighing in on average at 267g (0.58 lb) and 20cm (7.9 in) in length and a female ever so slightly larger at 269g (0.59 lb) and 21cm (8.3 in) it is not hard to see why they received the title of the dwarf mongoose. Fortunately, if you miss the first glance of these reddish-brown ‘miniature’ mongooses darting across the road in front of you, you are likely to spot another one moments later as they are gregarious in nature – moving around in packs of 30 or more individuals. They are quick to scurry into thick shrubs, fallen over tree cavities, or modified termite mounds, where if you have the patience to sit and wait quietly, they will often one by one start to pop their heads out to survey their surrounds for any danger and continue with their daily rituals once the coast is clear.
Now, this is where I can start to imagine life being quite daunting for the dwarf mongooses. They pop their heads out of the safety of their den only to spot a large herd of impalas or not to mention a breeding herd of elephants passing by. Although they pose no direct threat to the mongooses, I would think there might still be some feeling of intimidation.
Luckily for the dwarf mongoose family, not only does their cooperative teamwork strategy work well for their safety and foraging, but they have also formed a mutually beneficial relationship with two of the local hornbills – the Southern Yellow-billed and Southern Red-billed hornbills.
As a new day begins for a dwarf mongoose they are often woken by a hornbill waiting on their doorstep, sometimes with the hornbills even calling down into their dens to wake them. The hornbill then waits patiently for the mongooses to sunbathe in order to warm their little bodies, then socialize through ritualized greetings and finally begin foraging for the day. It is well worth the wait for the hornbills, who benefit in the form of being present to catch any insects that are disturbed by the mongoose’s activities. The mongooses benefit from the presence of their feathered friend as they are often perched on nearby trees and able to keep a look out for any approaching danger, to which they will give off an alarm call warning the mongooses.
Although teamwork and mutually beneficial relationships do give us some perspective on the day in the life of a dwarf mongoose, what I find the most fascinating is the advantages that small mammals have over larger ones in the bush. For starters, they need less food and less space and tend to breed much faster, producing far more offspring. The most unique advantage of dwarf mongooses and other smaller mammals is however, their ability to perceive the world at a higher frame rate than humans and other larger mammals. In other words, smaller mammals such as the dwarf mongoose perceive time as if it is passing by in slow motion giving them a greater chance to escape from larger predators!
Now if you are wondering how it is possible to measure an animal’s perception of time, scientists have developed the Critical Flicker Fusion Frequency to assist us here. The study measures the frequency at which flickering light can be perceived as continuous, and allows brain functionality and the ability to process sensory information to be measured. Research from these studies concludes that the body size and metabolic rate of mammals have a direct influence on the outcome and as small mammals, a dwarf mongoose is essentially able to process information at a much quicker rate because its brain functions at a higher frequency. The end result: dwarf mongooses are more likely to see the world go by around them at a slower rate.
It might be a bit of a stretch but, I can’t help but wonder if my own ‘lack of height’ might enable me to see things at a different pace from others. At the very least there are often times when I am out in the bush enthralled by a fleeting sighting or the days go by so quickly that I wouldn’t mind if I was perceiving it all passing by in slow motion… wouldn’t you?