I. Akimushkin. Bandicoots that are not bandicoots. Shrews false and true. Attitudes of burrow-diggers. The desman - a water mole. Of jackals and foxes. Red panda and its relatives. Rikk-Tikki-Tavi and his numerous relatives. Speedster on 'spikes'. The snow leopard or the ounce.
Something was slightly rustling in the bushes before us. Bob stood immobile, only shed light in every direction, like a lighthouse. The rustling was still heard, but nothing was appearing, and then suddenly the beam of light picked from the gloom one of the most bizarre animals that I ever saw. It was the size of a rabbit with a long twitching nose, bright beady eyes, and sharp imp-like ears. The fur was rough, brown with yellowish tinge, the tail very rat-like. The animals wandered through the fallen leaves and determinedly sniffed out something; sometimes it stopped to scratch the ground with its neat paw, - apparently, it searched for insects.
'What is it?' whispered Jackie.
'It's a long-nosed bandicoot,' I whispered back.
'Don't be funny,' she whispered. 'I'm serious.'
'It's not my fault that they're called so,' I became angry.
And the long-nosed bandicoot, unaware that my wife did not believe in his existence, meanwhile ploughed a pile of leaves with its nose, like a bulldozer of some bizarre design. Suddenly it sat down and for a moment it scratched itself with a lot of energy and concentration. After relieving itself, it sat still for several more seconds, then emitted a strong sneeze, and continuing to plough leaves, vanished in the shrubs. (Gerald Durrell)
The strange name of the sharp-nosed beast, which confused Mrs. Durrell, does not only sound strange, it is also foggy and ambiguous.
The bandicoot, to speak sternly, is not quite a bandicoot. It is also called bilby and the marsupial shrew due to certain similarity in appearance and behavior with that animal, common among us. But if it is a shrew, then a very large one: the size of a large rat, even a rabbit. Of course, here is no full and true correspondence, even if, adding the word 'marsupial' we make a certain correction.
The bandicoot also sounds wrong, because this name is already, according to the zoologists, is preoccupied, i.e. taken by another animal: the large 'pig' rats of South India and Sri Lanka are called so.
So, the word 'bilby' might be the most appropriate.
The bilbies (or the bandicoots, as you like it) number twelve species. During the day they sleep among grasses and shrubs in nests, made from shards of stems, leaves, sometimes mixed with earth. They do not dig burrows to live in.
Such are the habits of short- and long-nosed bandicoots. The long-eared bandicoots, or bilbies, from Central Australia and some western, southeastern and southern areas, on the other hand, dig burrows, and very long and complex ones: one and a half meter or more in depths, without a spare exit. The path of the burrow, going down, constantly twists into a spiral or under obtuse angles. They sleep in the burrows during the day (some near the entrance to the burrow, around half a meter away from it or so) and then they often plug the entrance with soil or sand.
To prevent noise from awakening them, they plug their ears with their ears: they line them firmly along the neck backwards, and then bend the ears forwards so that the tips of the ears hide the eyes now. Plus, they hide their long-nosed head between the forelimbs, bending it forwards, while sitting on their long hind legs, bending the tail beneath the belly. A furry balloon results. Sometimes, to listen, they raise one ear straight, and the second is still asleep, bent halfway on the head.
The bilbies, the long-eared bandicoots, have a claw on the tip of the tail, like the lion and the claw-tailed wallaby do. Possibly, such a tail helps the paws to dig a burrow or to gather leaves and stems for the next. It is not known for sure.
At twilight the animals awake and then they are overtaken by such a thirst for activities, as if be-fore dawn they must do a mass of all sorts of actions. Sometimes hopping, sometimes trotting, they run, stretching their backs amusingly. They scurry, stick their pointy snouts in every cranny under bush and stone, they smell, they scratch, they dig earth here and there. In the ground and on the ground they seek worms, insects, lizards, mice, various tubers and roots. In gardens and vegetable gardens, it happens, the bandicoots destroy many potatoes, after covering their rows with conical pits. But this small harm is quite compensated by the destruction of many beetle larvae and mice.
After catching a mouse (or a worm), the bandicoot scratches it amusingly with its paws, presses it and rolls around on the ground for a long while, until the prey transforms into a shapeless mass. And then, after sniffing attentively, the bandicoot will eat or discard it, according to the mood. But if the bandicoot will decide to eat it, it will carefully clean its prey from dirt and garbage, dexterously using the long fingers of the forelimbs.
They are aggressive and do not tolerate each other in crumpled spaces. They fight, lunging and scratching with their paws, both front and rear. The claws of the bandicoots are sharp, and when scratching, they strongly tear each other's hide.
One bandicoot, remaining overnight with another one in a cage, literally 'plucked' its' neighbour, with whom it failed to share something.
Some breed in May-June, others during any time of the year. The pouch, which, just as in case of koalas and dasyrids, opens backwards, contains six or eight nipples, but the offspring number one, two or four.
The natives and the farmers hunt bandicoots, believing that their meat is as tasty as a rabbit's. The native Australians, for example, catch these long-nosed 'rabbits' in such a funny way. After tracking (by means known only to them) where a bandicoot, tired after a night out sleeps in a nest in dense grass (or in a burrow), the natives stalk closely and suddenly fall, arms outstretched, upon a nest.
Previously Australia had plenty of bandicoots, now there are fewer and fewer of them: they visibly are dying out, vanishing in the greedy stomachs of people, dogs, cats, foxes.
SHREWS FALSE AND TRUE
There are three sorts of shrews: otter shrews, elephant shrews (or sengi) and common shrews. Still, the first two are not shrews at all; they are just called so, for a lack of a better word.
The otter shrews, which are anatomically close to solenodons and tenrecs and not to shrews as such, live in Central and Western Africa. They number three species. Externally they really do look like an otter, just smaller: about half a meter long (with the tail).
The tail is stronger, thick at the beginning, and then it is compressed at sides - it is excellent as both a rudder and an oar. The otter shrews, while swimming, use more of its strength than their weak paws, which are, people say, are not even webbed, something that is strange for a aquatic mammal. After seeing a fish from a shore, they dive after it. They catch it and go to the shore to eat it.
The elephant shrews, or the sengis, look more like jerboas, because they can jump, just like the jerboas, on their long hind legs. And their eyes are just as large (a rarity for insectivores!). They are called elephant shrews for their thin, elongated at the end into a proboscis, muzzle. They number 21 species, almost all are reddish-brown, but there are mottled sengis as well, and they all live in Africa in dry steppes and stony highlands (one species - in Zanzibar). While jumping, they leisurely look for insects in cool morning hours. During the noonday heat they hide in burrows. Some are the size of a rat; others are bigger, being about half a meter long from the nose to the tip of the long tail. On the bottom half of the tail the sengis have musk glands. Touching the group with the tail while running, they leave a smelly track - a guideline for those relatives of theirs, who got tired of being lonely.
When the months turn to September, the female sengis give birth. They are not fertile: one-two offspring, but they are quite large, with eyes already open and with reddish fur on their backs. The newborns hang onto the nipples and the mother jumps with them through the steppe.
The true shrews are endlessly varied - 265 species. Only the white-toothed genus of shrews, mostly African (although they are not rare in Asia too), is more plentiful in species than all of the suborder of primates - 144! However, when the white-toothed shrews get to be studied better, this number probably will be much decreased. Some of the shrews are rat-sized, many are mouse-sized, and some are actually smaller.
Europe, Asia, Africa, North and Central America (and a small piece of South America in the north) - here is the living space on the global scale that is inhabited by shrews. They are very prepared to the role that was given to them on this planet by fate. In mountains, forests, fields, gardens of countries with moderate climate, even in tundra and tropics they have become excellently adapted to live. They can live and move (in summer and winter) in dense grass, in fallen leaves, in loose soil, between roots, in narrow burrows, are good swimmers, and some live completely in water, as otters do. Many animals are helpless - can neither move nor successfully hunt after various small insects on the borderline between air and earth, where the shrews are successful by their dexterous small body, big strength and courage incomparable with the former, great mobility and tough endurance. The long, rounded proboscis easily moves aside such obstacles on the way like dense grasses, mosses and loose soil. And to prevent the brave midgets from being eaten by those, who are stronger (and there is an unbelievable multitude!), nature gave to the shrews musk glands with an unpleasant smell. Only storks, adders and some birds of prey do not ignore them. And mammals, for example foxes, which have a very tuned sense of smell, cannot tolerate the shrew smell. They do not eat them. And if it happens that a fox grabs a shrew mistakenly thinking that this is a mouse, it will immediately spit the latter out in disgust. But the sable eats shrews, and quite willingly!
The appetites of the shrews themselves are for the records: in a day they eat more than their own weight. They eat almost all insects, and also worms, slugs, millipedes and even mice, which they overpower in a struggle. Possibly, the victory over small enemies is given to them via a rare quality of saliva, which was already noticed in case of the solenodon: venom. The saliva of the shrews is neurotoxic, i.e. it is deadly for the nerves (at least in case of Eurasian water shrews). But it is not yet clear if it is dangerous for humans. Venomous mammals are very rare! Only the echidna and the platypus also have venomous glands, as it is known. The shrews desperately protect their share of food. It was seen how a shrew fought a lizard over some insect with militant squeaks.
And they fight between themselves often and furiously: biting, rolling around, and grabbing each other. They take a short break and a new round will begin. And so it goes until a full victory of one of fighters or a complete exhaustion of both. Each shrew has its hunting territory - several dozens of meters in each direction - and they do not let in strangers there.
On the territory of former USSR lives 21 species of shrews in five different genii: long-tailed shrews, musk shrews, dwarf and pygmy shrews, Eurasian water shrews, and the piebald shrew.
The common long-tailed shrew loves damp places more than dry ones, and enjoys shadows. If it stays in the sun for too long, it can die. It resembles a mouth, only its sharp long snout gives away its insectivore origins. Size-wise it is also compatible to a mouse - from the nose to the beginning of the tail it is 6-8 cm long. The color is generally brown (western long-tailed shrews are almost black). The tail, whose tip spouts a barely noticeable brush of elongated hairs, is bi-colored: darker above, lighter below. This shrew lives all over Russia, and also in Western Europe and China. Above all places she prefers the mouths of rivers and banks of streams. For diversity it eats plant seeds too.
The lifespan of the common long-tailed shrew is very short, only 15 months, according to some observations. That is why, apparently, the reproduction tempos are extremely fast. Judge for yourselves: at three-four months of age young long-tailed shrews acquire a family of their own, the pregnancy is as short as the marsupials' are - twenty days; the young (which usually number five) mature in a nest, gaining strength, only three weeks: on the seventeenth day they already emerge from it to scout their closest neighborhood, and on the twenty-second they abandon their childhood home, acquiring almost complete independence. And after three more days their mother is ready to start the process anew.
When it comes time to give birth (this can happen at any time of the year from March to Sep-tember), the common long-tailed shrew wives a ball-shaped nest from various small plants somewhere in a quiet place between roots and tussocks or in a foreign, abandoned burrow. The grown-up young at first follow their mother in a keelwater column. Among the grasses, fallen leaves and interwoven roots tiny mammals can easily get lost. Therefore, when their caravan fol-lows their mother, they grab each other's tail with their teeth (not at the tips, but closer to the beginning), and the first youngster hold on to their moth instead.
Also, all over the former USSR, but in swampy places, on the shores of rivers, lakes and streams, lives the Eurasian water shrew. (Do not confuse it with the giant otter shrew of Africa: it is a completely different mammal, although also an insectivore, of a different genus and much larger in size.) And the Eurasian water shrew is small, slightly bigger than the other shrews, but still it is not longer than an index finger - its body is 76-86 mm long. The short fur of this mammal is black or black-brown above. Below it is white, grey-white, ochre, white with an orange tint or even brown. When a Eurasian water shrew is swimming, the border of black and white colors on its sides serves as a waterline of sorts. The Eurasian water shrew's tail has a keel below made from elongated hairs and its paws are just as bristly. All of this makes it a better swimmer. The Eurasian water shrew hunts in water during winter and summer: diving beetles, dragonfly larvae, molluscs, worms, fish eggs, fish fry (and even fish themselves, weighing up to a kilogram!). This midget even attacks even water wolves that thrice as big as it does. (Still, do not forget that this mammal's saliva is venomous.)
'The Eurasian water shrew runs fast, at that it moves, stretching out and typically bending upwards its long muzzle, which it moves from side to side. With a great speed the shrew attacked the frog, which was jumping away as fast as it could. Catching the frog, the predator begins to bite it in the head. If the frog is big and strong, then it often tries to escape from its tormentor and in that case one can see the shrew literally riding the frog, grabbing it by the head... It is quite interesting to note that in most cases as soon as the shrew reaches the frog and slightly touches it, the latter literally freezes: the frog instantly stretches out as if it is dead, typically covering its head with its front legs' (professor S.I. Ognev).
Is it playing possum or a fear-based paralysis? In any case, regardless of its psychological reasons, the defence apparently saves the frog's life.
The piebald shrew is dressed different from its kin as well. The snout of this species is short and the fur is piebald: white on the stomach and sides, grey on the back, but with a big white spot in the middle. This mammal lives in sands of Central Asia and Transvolga; it hunts occasionally very far from home, up to seven-eight km. When it is not in a big rush, in can cover 40-50 m in a minute. When it is in a rush - twice as much. Its object of gastronomic desires - insects, and more important, lizards. The desires are great: one female piebald ate during one night 12 lizards (toad-headed agamas) and 25 black cockroaches! And it did not die from such gluttony, but conversely it perked up.
The piebald shrews hide from heat in burrows, their own and otherwise; without sparing strength they did themselves three meters long. In the depths of the burrow - a spacious living chamber. They give birth thrice a year. About five or so offspring.
ATTITUDES OF BORROW-DIGGERS
The mole, which from birth and till death almost never sees sunlight, is a borrow-digger without equals. Everything is adapted for the best of digging purposes in its body: the smooth body to better move underground, short and smooth fur that doesn't get caught underground (but it gets worn out quickly, so the mole molts three times a year!). There is no outer ear (also not to get caught underground), but only a fold of skin - it closes the internal ear, so soil and sand don't get caught in mole ears. The eyes are tiny ("the size of a poppy seed"!), the eyelids close them completely when it is necessary. And in case of some Old World moles the eyes got covered with skin completely: such a mole species is fully blind, but you cannot see anything underground in the first place.
The forelimbs of a mole are true shovels, their claws are flat, while the hands are twisted thus for the mole to better dig in soil in front of it and throw the soil behind itself. The mole digs relentlessly and quickly: in a day, on average, it digs 20 m of new underground passes.
One scientist had uncovered and measured only some tunnels of a single mole. When their combined length approached 158 mm, he abandoned this work. Armed, then, with a pencil, the zoologists calculated that the mole has created an underground ventilation and drainage system (very necessary for soil fertility!) with a working surface of 28.5 square meters. And it is only a small part of what that single mole has done. The underground labyrinths of some moles stretch directly (and not in complicated twists as they are made) up to 4 km!
A young tagged mole was caught in a trap once more in just after 20 hours, but in 700 m (directly) away from the spot where it was released. And another male in 6 days - in 2 km.
The land beneath our feet, where the moles are plentiful, is apparently fully pierced by a complex net of mole burrows. Our zoologists have once calculated the combined area of all the mole tunnels on 200 hectares and the full amount of soil thrown out by them. The numbers turned out to be quite impressive: all tunnels, put together, went for 87 km, and the moles have dug out 204 tonnes of earth!
The mole tunnels are of two sorts: the nesting tunnels, where it rests when sated, which happens rarely, for the mole's appetite is great, and the feeding ones, which usually lie close to the surface. The acute sense of smell indicates to the mole in which direction it should dig to reach quicker an earthworm, a mole cricket or a maybug larva. But if its tunnel will get invaded by a mouse, a shrew, a lizard, a grass snake, a frog, the mole won't let them go, but with speed, surprising for a half-blind and pigeon-toed mammal, it will kill and eat them. Even if they won't invade, but just come close to the territory, where the mole will happen to be, the mole, smelling the prey from underground, will jump out, grab the passing animal and will drag them back underground. People saw moles that were backing back down and dragging frogs into their tunnels (snakes too, supposedly!). One mole had only the sly dug underneath a bird nest, pierced the bottom (keeping the nest itself undisturbed!), grabbed the nestling and dragged it underground. Another mole, supposedly, had smelled from underground an insect, which was sitting on a stem not high enough, and with the same clever move, emerging from underground next to the insect, had caught it.
As they say, these are testimonies of witnesses, but can they be trusted? Here every person should decide, while watching the moles, can they do such tricks. The author states nothing: he just tells the stories of moles, not the most improbable, in his opinion.
Sometimes the mole hunts on the surface of the ground too, sniffing around in the fallen leaves and in moss. And here, (this, apparently, happens for real), if it encounters with its half-blinded by sensitive muzzle a baby hare, which lurks in full immobility, while its mother is eating nearby, the mole will mercilessly eat it.
The moles are intolerant to neighbors and don't tolerate any inhabitants or other moles in their tunnels. And if they're put together into a tight space, the stronger mole will kill the weaker one and eat it. Thus the people say: if the mole was the size of a lion, no other animal would be as fierce as it! Only during the mating season, usually from March to May, do the male and female moles live together. It's possible that the male stays with the offspring until they get big enough and supposedly the male even brings to the youngsters worms and other food. And if the spring floods will flood the tunnels, the male mole supposedly helps the female to move the offspring into dryer surroundings. But if it is so for real, the scientists haven't determined yet.
The mole pregnancy lasts 30-40 days. Usually in May (sometimes at the end of summer) the moles give birth: 3-9, on average - 5, baby moles. The mother feeds them with milk for 3 weeks and is very attached to them. If the nest is uncoverd, the female, forgetting its own safety, grabs one pup after another with its teeth and pulls them into other burrows or hides them into a pile of loose earth - anywhere, really, just to get them ASAP out of danger.
During winter moles don't hibernate as hedgehogs do, but dig beneath the snow, only now they burrow deeper. They often throw the soil out directly to the surface, straight onto the snow, and move under snow on the surface of frozen ground. The food is less plentiful in winter than it is in summer, and so not to starve, the moles 'preserve' worms for the winter: they bite off the heads of worms and encase them in the walls of their tunnels, sometimes in hundreds at once. Headless, the worms cannot move far away, but they don't die either, and thus they don't get spoiled.
The habitat of the common, or European, mole - are the great swaths of forests, fields, meadows and chaparral from Spain in the west to West Siberia (and maybe even further) in the east, from the shores of the White sea to the steppes of Ukraine, the lower Volga region and Kazakhstan (where the mole doesn't live). Also, 5 more species of mole live on the territory of the former USSR. Four of them have eyes covered with skin and hidden on the outside. The Far Eastern mole, the mogera, is brownish-grey, while the others are all black or blackish-brown (the youngsters are silvery), but some, very rarely, are yellow and white.
The moles of the Talpidae family, of whom the common mole is a worthy representative, live only in Europe, Asia and North America. They number 19 species. Some don't restrict themselves with a too-firm life in the underground, often, and quite quickly, they run on the ground. Many of them, including the common mole described, are decent swimmers. And the North American star-nosed mole is an excellent swimmer and diver. It is an astonishing creature: the tip of the nose seems to have sprouted a red aster! 22 long movable pink tentacles! While burrowing underground, the star-nosed mole senses everything with them as if they were dexterous fingers.
This amazing mole lives (where it is damp, near water) in northeastern USA and southeastern Canada. It is black or dark brown, with working eyes, small in size (20 cm long, and another 7 cm for the tail). And its tail is particular: it is thick in the middle, tapering at the end and the front. The thick tail is used for the star-nosed mole to store fat for the winter.
As far as earth-digging goes, the American moles are as good as ours are. After a rainy night one of them had dug a fresh 100 m tunnel.
"We can appreciate the scale of this work only by comparison. To execute the corresponding problem a man would've had to dig in a single night a tunnel 60 km long with width sufficient for his body" (Dr. Hart Merrian).
Fur coats are made from moleskin. Their fur may not be luxurious, but it is plenty beautiful. But is it known that the moles are killed for their fur in greater number than any other mammal (except for the water rat), - 20 million moles all over the world annually!
Recently in America 20 million of musk rats were killed, now there and in Russia - slightly more than 10 million. The numbers of squirrels are similar. But the water rat, perhaps, is in lead over the mole: in 1958, in USSR, "almost 22 million musk rats were bought" in terms of skins (V.V. Dezhkin and C.V. Marakov).
Africa has no ordinary moles, but to the south of Congo and the Great lakes live the golden moles (15 species). The above-mentioned moles, by the origins, are closer to shrews and desmans, and the golden moles - more to the hedgehogs. They are called golden due to the metallic shine of their golden-green fur (in some species it is more of a copper shade). In their case, not all of their fingers had evolved into a digging device, but just one in the middle. Its' claw is wide, sharp at the end, and acts like a shovel, just as in case of the marsupial mole (who has two of such claws, however). Golden and copper moles don't like rich and fertile soils, but make their tunnels primarily in sandy ones. To keep sand out of their eyes, the golden moles have them completely covered in skin, and the ear cavity is tiny and completely covered by fur. The 'true' moles have small tails, the golden moles lack them completely, but their noses have small cartilaginous shield as to not rub their noses raw on the sand.
The golden moles seek worms and insects in the saves of dry savannahs and deserts.
THE DESMAN - A WATER MOLE
The desman is also called on occasion a water mole: their origins are close to the moles'. Some scientists combine the desmans into the single family with the moles. However the others believe that the desmans must still belong in their own family.
Previously, the desmans lived all over Europe (even in Great Britain during the prehistoric times). Now they number only two species -- the Pyrenean desman and the Russian. The former is smaller than the latter is, its tail isn't compressed from the sides as the Russian desman's is, and the shade of its fur isn't silvery, but rather bronze. It lives in the mountain rivers of Spain and in southeastern France.
The Russian desman has barely survived in the waters of Volga, Don and Ural rivers. Admittedly, the desman was introduced to Mordovia, Bashkiria, the Smolensk region and beyond the Ural mountains - into the river Ob'. In places the Russian desman had learned to live there.
The desman is just as adapted to an aquatic lifestyle, as the mole is to the underground one. It is obvious immediately: the body is rounded, the ears are small -- and also rounded. The fur is firm, dense, warm, doesn't get waterlogged, since it is richly anointed with fat. The main-hairs are wider on top than they are at the bases, -- they seemingly wedge themselves and don't loosen up. For those, who live in water, this is very important: a mammal can carry a lot of air in such fur underwater when it dives. This makes swimming easier, this makes the desman warmer underwater, since air is an excellent heat isolator. On the desman's belly the hairs are even slightly thicker than they are on its' back. The land-living mammals got it in reverse. The water is cold all over, therefore it is important for the stomach to be just as furry as the back. And on the shore, on the ground, the desman doesn't really get dry: its legs are short, thus the belly is always close to damp ground. Dense fur is very useful here.
Well, what if the summer is here, it became hot, how to prevent heat stroke (this happens to water-dwelling mammals), what does the desman do? Pay attention to the tail: it isn't just an excellent steering tool, quite necessary for a swimmer, but it is also an 'emanator' of heat! It's naked, has no fur, and the excessive heat, brought there by blood from an overheated, fur-isolated body, is quickly released into the surroundings and cools 'the aquatic mole' the same way how a radiator cools down a car's motor.
The webbed hindfeet, hinged by bristles, are the main moving organ of the desman in the water. The forefeet are webbed too, but they're small and the desman doesn't use them to row; when it swims, it presses them to its' body.
The snout of the desman is elongated and the nostrils are positioned at the very tip: to breathe, yet remain largely underwater. It would be even better to be able to eat underwater without risking drowning. It's a good idea, and we see how, 'constructing' the desman, the evolution made it true: the breathing throat is locked by special muscles at the roof of the mouth and the throat, and the water doesn't go there, even if the desman eats without surfacing.
The heart of the aquatic mammals is usually not as big (in a relative proportion) as that of the terrestrial ones: it's easier to swim than to run on dry land, therefore the blood pump has less work to do. But its' right side is thicker and more massive than in case of terrestrial mammals. Underwater, the right chamber of the heart has a harder time of pushing blood into the lungs: the water is denser than the air and compresses the chest harder. To surpass this pressure on lungs, the muscles of the right chamber are reinforced by power of extra tissue.
In the water, the desman is almost as confident as a fish is. It doesn't surface to breathe for 10--12 minutes. It doesn't freeze or drown even when it chews and breaks apart water beetles, snails, dragonfly and mosquito larvae, leeches (the desman's favorite!), worms, crayfish, fish, frogs, tadpoles, eggs, bullrushes, rushes, arrowleaves, water lilies, etc., etc with its bumpy teeth. The menu is quite varied: around 100 various animal and plant dishes.
When the desman seeks various animals on the river bottom, then it digs in the silt with its pointed snout and front legs, as if walking on the river bottom upsdie down, raising its butt upwards (and the platypus plows river bottom in approximately the same poise).
The desman hunts in twilight and at night. During the day it stays out of sight, lurking in its burrow. It is quite deep in the desman's case, sometimes in several levels, if the level of the river changes often enough. (They say that the burrow smells of musk, the desmans have the appropriate glands beneath the tail.) The entrance to the burrow is always underwater. There, in the same burrow, the desman bears (after 40--50 days of pregnancy) one or five, but usually three-four pups. This can happen really at any time: usually from April to May, or from August to September, but in can happen in October, in any other month, even during winter. Why this time of giving birth is so vague is yet unclear.
The other oddity of the desman is its fantastic bond to slow-moving bodies of water, swampland, lakes and rivers with slow current. Why it doesn't live in steppe lakes and ponds is unknown.
As it is known, the desman is an important fur-bearing animal. But 100--150 years ago, according to V.V. Dezhkin and C.V. Markov, it wasn't hunted. The desman wasn't fashionable. Sadly for it, in the beginning of XX century, the desman became fashionable and it almost ended the desman. Before WWI up to 100,000 desman skins a year were sold. Then the profitable business began to decrease. "The biggest accumulations of the desman in the Soviet time were in 1954 -- 23.3 thousand skins". If one doesn't forget that the Soviet hunters later on would acquire no more than 8--9 thousand skins a year, then even this hunting, from the P.O.V. of fur trade, is very good.
OF JACKALS AND FOXES
A jackal is seemingly a decreased down to 6-14 kg version of a wolf. Its' behavior has many wolf-like traits, but many different ones too. A jackal is decisively a southern mammal; on the territory of former USSR it can be found only in Ciscaucasia, Georgia, Dagestan, and Transcau-casia and also in Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and also in the river valleys of Syr Darya and Amu Darya. Jackals also travel from the Balkans into Moldavia, but not very often. Jackals are used to humans and often settle nearby, during the night preventing humans from sleeping due to their nerve-wracking howls. The jackal is not beyond eating plant food: it gnaws watermelons, melons, grapes on the vines, corn in the fields. But it does not forget about the coops either and steals chickens. It eats carrion and various refuse on dumps, also frogs, insects, lizards, fish, rodents, birds.
It loves rushes in the mouths of rivers and on the shores of lakes, it is less enamored of deserts and of tall mountains. During the spring, somewhere in tall shrubs, beneath tree roots, in burrows of badger, fox or porcupine the female jackal gives birth from 3 to 9 pups. They live with their mother until autumn, and by next year they become parents themselves.
Romans called jackals 'golden wolves', hence the word 'gold' figures in their Latin name. But of course the jackals are called different and various names in the countries where they live - in India and on Sri Lanka, in Myanmar and Turkey, on Balkans in Europe, in northern and eastern Africa. In Africa three other species of jackals keep them company (and competition). The most wide spread and best dressed - the black-backed jackal. Its back is seemingly covered with a black, slightly silvered, saddle. The African jackals are less social with each other than the common jackal, whose homeland, undoubtedly, is Asia. They do not gather in small packs too often: usually only when they can smell than a lion has slaughtered an antelope, but had not eaten it entirely yet. It is their custom to pick up scraps after lions. But if such stroke of luck is not coming, they for themselves hunt lizards, mice, birds, young and small antelopes. The black-backed jackals even dare to attack a sated python, if, of course, it is not very big and is so full that it is heavy and slow. But if the python is hungry, the roles often switch - then the jackal changes from the hunter to game. Also leopards are not above on snacking with a jackal on occasion. And humans do not like jackals because of thievery: they steal both chickens and everything edible that they find in villages. The skins of black-backed jackals beautiful, they are made into carpets and blankets.
The side-striped jackal is perhaps somewhat bigger than the black-backed is, but is not as arrogant and brave. The Ethiopian jackal is even bigger, but is very rare, and almost nothing is known about its' lifestyle.
These are all of the jackals of the Old World. But in the New, in western Canada, USA (eastwards to Great Lakes, and southwards - only to eastern Texas), and in Mexico lives a mammal closely related to the jackals. It is called the coyote or the prairie wolf. The jackal's tail is short, the coyote's - long and furry, almost like a fox's (but its tip is black, while the fox's is white). The coyotes have adapted to live in danger alongside people as well as the jackals have. They say that the coyotes even use the railroads to their advantage: they feed on the slopes on various rubbish that people through out of the wagon windows. In places, where they hear the train's noise, the coyotes run from the prairies and fields where they hunted on mice, birds and insects to the railroad and perking their ears, they sit, on occasion, nearby and wait if some travelling American doesn't throw out anything edible.
The foxes, just like cats, have a vertical, elongated pupil (the wolves, dogs and jackals have a round one instead). Their character too is feline in that they never live and hunt in packs, but only on their own. True, the foxes too sometimes gather in a group to steal a newborn fawn from the doe or to bring down a wounded roe deer, but that is not a pack, but an accidentally generated company: each one came for its own share and it so happened that they came to the food source together.
Only the Vulpes genus of foxes, which includes the red fox, numbers 9 species: in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. On the territory of the former USSR - 3 species: the red or common fox, the Blanford's fox and the corsac fox. The corsac is a miniature fox (with a dark, not white, tip of the tail!) that lives in the steppes and deserts of Middle and Central Asia, on the south-west of Ukraine, in the Volga region (north to Saratov), in Ciscaucasia and Transbaikal. The Blanford's fox is even smaller than the corsac is, is pale grey in color, with a dark tip of the tail. It is a very rare mammal for us (found only in Turkmenistan).
The red fox, just like the wolf, has settled on a very big territory - all of Europe, almost all of Asia, including China and Japan, northern Africa and North America (however, this North American version some people consider to be a closely related, but still separate, specie). Also, people have introduced the red fox to Australia, New Zealand and other islands.
The author will not be speaking much about it: not because this fox is uninteresting creature, it is just that everyone knows it and very well too. As it is known, foxes can be not just red, but brown-black (especially often they are found on Chukotka), and on the American north - silvery-black. And also cross-colored (with a black cross on the shoulders and a dark brown belly), mottled (lighter in color with a brown or rusty-brown cross on the shoulder and a dark brown belly), spotted (with dark spots, especially on the muzzle), and etc - these aren't even subspecies, but simply genetic forms (with various genes of coloration in the DNA) that are often born even in the same litter. And also, there are dozens of different fox subspecies of various colorations. In general, the foxes of northeast are bigger and brighter, in the steppes and deserts - smaller and paler in color.
During spring, usually in an abandoned badger burrow, (more rarely dug by themselves), and sometimes - in the same burrow with badger, but in different parts of the underground labyrinth, a fox gives birth to 4-6, or even up to 12 pups. People, when they find them, sometimes think that they are wolf pups. To an inexperienced onlooker they are indeed slightly similar to wolf pups, but they can be distinguished by the white tip of the tail: the wolf pups' tips are dark. For a month and two weeks the fox feeds them on milk. Then, slowly, its' offspring begin to scout outside the burrow. But for another three-four months they hide in it. By autumn they go their separate ways. And by the next spring the grown-up fox pups have their own offspring.
They say that the badger, trying to get rid of the fox in its burrow, tends to bury it. The fox pays back by fouling everything before his nose. This the neat freak of the badger absolutely cannot tolerate and losing any hope to re-educate (or to bury alive) the foxy neighbor, leaves its home and digs itself a new burrow. The fox only waits for this to happen. The author, however, fears that this interpretation of their relationship - is only a hunters' tale albeit an imaginative one.
On the other hand, the other old hunters' tale that the fox's tail smells of violets - is certainly true. Although, as Prishvin says, it happens that the hunters who want to establish this, 'smell in the wrong place'.
The violet gland, which is especially large and fragrant during the mating season, is located not under the tail but on the tail, on the upper side, almost at the very root (about 1 cm away from it). Its' designation in the life of foxes is not quite clear. But, in any case, nature did not give it to the fox (as earlier the hunters used to insist) so that in case when a fox is wounded and exhausted it would inhale the violet aroma while turning around and perk back up. The heart, supposedly, would beat stronger and the fox would gain new strength from this fragrance. But rather the violet gland spreads the guiding lines of smells so that the red groom would more easily find its bride in the depths of a forest or in the steppe spaces.
It happens, people say, that when escaping from hounds or just wanting to sleep in safety, the fox climbs...trees. And not just half-toppled, angled, which is not so surprising, but even straight-growing firs. If only, truth be told, the fir's widespread branches grow low above the ground, so that the fox could jump onto them, and hanging-on with its paws it would hold on and climb higher. They say that the fox can also 'play possum', pretending to be dead just like it does, and it doesn't even wink either, even if it is raised by its tail and put into a sack.
Still, even more surprising tales are told about the fox. Supposedly, it takes with its jaws a piece of sheep wool or hay and slowly goes into some lake or sluggish river. The fleas, which do not like to bathe, supposedly crawl from the legs (as the fox submerges) onto the belly, from there - onto the back, from the back - onto the head. And from the head - onto the hay (or wool). Then the great strategist of the flea war abandons the ark overloaded with the fleas. (And never approaches it again!)
And also the foxes have a reputation of them catching fish with their tails.
Can all of this be believed?
About the trees - this is probably true. About playing dead - probably also true: because the raccoon dog, from the same branch of the family as the fox (the canids) certainly does it. When the dogs and hunters surround it, it quiets down, lies down as if it is dying, and is barely alive already. And when it notices that the enemies have moved slightly aside, it jumps up and flees. But it lacks the opossum's endurance, because usually it gives itself away too early and it is immediately caught up to and finished off.
As for the fleas - it looks like a tall tale. The fishing-with-the-tail situation will not be discussed, for the author wants to believe it, but cannot: science did not prove it.
RED PANDA AND ITS RELATIVES
The red panda lives in woodlands on the eastern slopes of Himalayas and the nearest mountains of Western China. The animal is small, with a tail almost a meter long, very dense fur - which is why the red panda appears bigger than it does actually. Its suit is actually very colorful. During the day it sleeps in a hollow or on a tree branch, wakes-up at twilight, begins to waddle, seeking acorns, roots, lichens, and, most importantly - bamboo shoots, young and juicy. During each, even fleeing, alarm, it flees onto trees. And if the paths of retreat are cut off, it fights with paws armed with sharp, semi-retractable, claws. The means of defense are rather ursine, but the claws are rather feline. The red pandas live in pairs or families, never in packs. Their cry is a loud, somewhat avian, squeal.
Aside from the two pandas, there are no procyonids in the Old World. But there are 16 species of them in America. The procyonids are plantidigrade as the bears are, their claws are semi-retractable or not at all. In some way they resemble small bears, but in others - the martens, though in general they are animals of a separate family.
The famous of the procyonids (especially to those, who frequent shops that sell fur coats) is the common raccoon, also known as racoon and coon. It is also known by its strange habit - 'wash' in water, when it is nearby, food and various inedible objects. It washes, rubs, lowers, and uses its forepaws again to catch everything it wants to eat, so carefully and long, that it cannot be an accident. But what is its biological meaning is unknown. Some raccoons, in captivity, even wash their newborn pups, and so pointlessly hard, that they happened to die after the 'bath'.
The homeland of this raccoon is USA, the southern provinces of Canada, Mexico and Central America (south to Panama). It is fox-sized, brownish-grey, on the muzzle is a 'mask' - black stripes. The tail has 4-6 dark rings. The claws are non-retractable.
It is the raccoon that our raccoon dog resembles the most, and the raccoon itself, in its behavior, resembles its neighbour the opossum: just as omnivorous, just as frequent a chicken thief, just as a clever jumper and tree climber. On occasion it, just as the sloths do, crawls upside down a thin branch, grabbing it with paws. It plays possum well too, pretending to be dead, when all escape routes are cut off. And just as the opossum, or, say, the bear does, it winters in tree hollows where the winters are cold. It is a jolly, lively, playful, curious and non-wicked mammal. It is active at night, during the day it sleeps on a tree, more rarely - in a badger's burrow. It swims well, and during the ebb the raccoons travel far after the retreating sea - they catch crabs and fish in small lagoons and hollows filed with water.
The cubs number two to eight. In Russia they are born in April-the start of May. The Soviet zoologists had rather successfully acclimatized the American raccoons in many parts of the union: in Gomelskaya area, in Krasnodarsk and Stavropol regions, in Dagestan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kirghizia and Primorskaya oblast. Still, 'in the last region', wrote G.A. Novikov, 'acclimatization has occurred unsuccessfully.'
Also, the raccoons that have fled from the farms have acclimatized in Germany: in Hessen, Westphalia and Lower Saxony. About a 1000 raccoons live on an area of 50 square kilometers. And another half a thousand more - east of Berlin. The Americans brought raccoons onto Alaska and the Bahamas. There, and on several other islands (Guadalupe, Barbados, Las-Tres-Marias), the American scientists believe, live five species of raccoon closely related to the common, but separate from it. Still, it is probably that they are just varieties: subspecies or races of the common raccoon. Only the South American crab-eating raccoon, though belonging to the raccoon genus, and has the same habits, is a separate species. If the raccoon were to lose its fur coat (including the tail) and be covered in fur short and sparse, then it would be a beast similar to the crab-eater. That is why the fur merchants do not value the crab-eaters fur and they do not appear among the millions of raccoon hides that are being sold in USA alone in the fur markets.
The crab-eater raccoons do not live in North America, but there, in the southern states, lives another very cute creature of the same kind - cacomistle, 'cat squirrel', or dwarf raccoon. Size-wise it is barely bigger than a squirrel: a fluffy tail about 37 cm long, everything else - the same size. It is yellowish-grey, with big ears and the tail is completely, from the beginning to end, in black and white rings. It is a very effective tail. This animal lives in woodlands, climbs trees as well as a squirrel does, but it also lives in rocky deserts, in scrubland and among hills. It is meek, cautious, and hunts for prey only at night; therefore, even where the 'cat squirrels' live in plenty, people rarely see them. The bigger grey cacomistle lives in Central America.
Aside from the common raccoon, the crab-eater and the cacomistles, the procyonid family numbers also three species of coatis or crackoons, the kinkajou and the three species of olingos (they live in South or Central America, and one species of coati - only on the Kosumel island east of Yucatan).
The coatis are brave, playful and very active creatures. All day long they take care of their sustenance. In small groups that consist of a dozen females and young, raising their tails high, they dig the ground with their long muzzles with very mobile tails. When they smell a worm or a larva in an old stump, they sniff, snarl, and scratch with their claws. They carefully comb the entire forest - some down below on the ground, others high in the trees. And everything can be their food: lizards, birds, insects, molluscs, roots, various fruits. As soon as they notice something suspicious, they immediately whistle loudly - and instantly the entire pack is on the trees. There it is safer to discover the reasons for alarm. At night they sleep on trees again, stretching out on thick branches. All the other procyonids, on the other hand, are active at night.
They swim well and they love water. The coatis have short webbing between the fingers. Their behavior, as the raccoon's, includes washing in water their paws, other objects, even their tail! (It is said about the tame coatis that they do not tolerate smokers. As soon as their owner smokes, they tend to rip out his cigarette and throw it out!)
The adult males live on their own - those males are called 'coatimundis'. Only when it is time to mate, they come to a group of youngsters and females - each to its own. And if another coatimundi comes over, there can be serious fights.
One week before four or five pups are born, a coati female leaves its pack, makes a nest on a tree and gives birth there. It feeds the young with milk for five weeks in that nest, and then it leads them to the formerly abandoned cohorts.
The kinkajou is a small mammal, greyish-red, with a long dexterous tail. Its tail is its most char-acteristic feature. Only the binturong, a south Asian mammal from the viverrid family, has a same tail that can grab branches that well. No other carnivorous mammal does.
The kinkajou's tongue is also peculiar, long and thin. This tongue can reach into any crack and get as much honey as the mammal itself wants. Honey, fruits are its favorite meal. But this dexterously tailed raccoon also raids birds' nests and on occasion eats various small animals. The kinkajou is friendly and playful. It quickly becomes attached to humans, native villages often have tame kinkajous. The second name of this creature is potto. The same name, potto, belongs to one African lemur, which - it is so strange! - is slightly similar to the kinkajou, although they are absolutely unrelated.
The olingos, especially Allen's olingo, are similar to kinkajou and often both of them peacefully coexist on the same tree. Native Americans consider both to be the same mammal. But the olin-gos are different mammals, their teeth are built differently, their muzzles are long and the tails are not dexterous; the olingos cannot hang on branches, using it as a fifth paw, as the kinkajou does.
Those are all of the procyonids, none other live on Earth.
RIKKI-TIKKI-TAVI AND HIS NUMEROUS RELATIVES
'But the eagle, apparently, wasn't bothered at all by the dust: diving quickly it slammed into the striped mongooses' family and grabbed one of them... Here, in the Serengeti, the mongooses look very funny: their stripes are vertical, just like the zebras'. (Bernhard Grzimek)
The mongoose desperately cried as the eagle carried it to the tree in its talons. Its' striped relatives weren't afraid, they didn't scatter, but the entire family, each and every one, 'followed the bird on their short legs, surrounded the tree and began to shrilly cry and squeal right beneath it'. The nerves of the eagle, shocked by the wild cacophony, broke: it released the mongoose. It fell to the ground but immediately jumped up and fled with its relatives into a copse.
The mongooses are courageous, the mongooses are dexterous - the snakes in the tropics do not have worse enemies and banes!
The mongooses are the worthy representatives of the viverrid family. A family that is ancient and very numerous - it has 82 species (according to a different data - 65) - in Africa, South Asia and on the island of Madagascar. Here, on this wonderful island, the viverrids are the only predators. There are no viverrids in America and Australia. In South-West Europe - only two species: the lesser spotted genet (Spain and the adjacent areas of France) and the ichneumon (South Spain and Dalmatia).
In behavior and body build the viverrids are somewhat in the middle between the mustelids and the felids. In the history of life these smallish predators (between the sizes of a weasel and a yel-low-throated marten) appeared early (but after the mustelids), in the late Eocene, 40 MYA. The felids descended from them.
The viverrids have feline grace, the claws of many species are also feline - they can retract (the fossa, the palm martens, the linsangs, the genets), many others have semi-retractable claws, the mongooses cannot retract their claws.
The viverrids include animals that until recently were called dwarf bears or bear martens: the binturongs. But there are also those, like the Madagascan fossa, which look more like the cats.
The fur of the binturongs is dark grey, long, and rather fuzzy. The ears are rounded and their edges are overgrown with long hairs. But the most important - it has a prehensile tail. When a binturong sleeps in a tree, then, grabbing a branch with its tail, it insures itself against falling. When it descends from a tree head first, it grabs the branches with its tail. In the Old World it is the only carnivorous placental mammal with a prehensile tail. In the New World there is old the relative of the raccoon, the kinkajou (such prehensile tails are also found among several American monkeys, the tamandua and the silky anteaters, the pangolins, but no other carnivores).
The binturongs live in the rainforests of South Asia, from the eastern Himalayas to Indochina, Java, Borneo, Sumatra and the Philippines. Here, they are the biggest of the viverrids - the length of a binturong including the tail is about 1.5 m - and the loudest: at night the loud cries of the binturongs shake the jungles. When furious they chirp like birds. Out of all the predators, aside from the pandas, the binturong is the least carnivorous, preferring vegetarian food. Still, on occasion, it eats small mammals and birds.
The fossa is a different matter: the Madagascan lemurs and various local birds live in a constant fear before it. The fossa's fur is short, reddish-brown. Upon Madagascar (and in the viverrid family!) it is the biggest carnivore - half the size of an adult puma. It dexterously climbs trees and slyly hides and stalks on the ground. Its' only enemy are humans, against whom the fossa's defence is the same as the skunk's - a stinking spray. However, all of the viverrids have glands with a stinking liquid under their tails. Because of that substance, the various African and Asian viverrids were imprisoned in cages in various Asian countries and even in medieval Germany. The substance was harvested from the anal glands of the captured animals to prepare the famous musk for perfume and medical reasons.
The natives of Madagascar are very afraid of the fossa, stubbornly (but falsely) believing that the animal is as powerful as a lion, and on occasion, it kills their livestock at night.
Yet another peculiarity has occurred with the fossa: another Madagascan viverrid, Fossa fossa, was named after it in science. The latter represents a special subfamily of the viverrids - the striped civets, among which the most interesting animal, perhaps, is the otter civet. Externally (and in the way of life) it is similar to an otter: its' muzzle is just as wide, the nostrils underwater are closed with valves, and the feet are webbed. It catches fish in the rivers of South Asia (including Sumatra and Borneo).
The viverrid family has six subfamilies - the true viverrids (the viverras, the civets, the genets, the linsangs - 18 species), the palm martens (that include the binturongs - 8 species), the striped and the otter civets (7 species), the Madagascan mongooses (8 species) the real mongooses (the mongooses, the ichneumons and the suricates - 40 species) and, finally, the fossa (1 species).
Three sudden additions to the subfamily of the true viverrids - three species new to science - were made recently, already in the 20th century. In 1919, in the dense rainforests of Ituri (the right tributary of Congo), a hunting expedition acquired the aquatic, or the fish-eating, civet. And in 1960 Mr Kun the zoologist described Lemann's civet, which was caught in Liberia. The third new species was discovered in that same year in Somalia.
The genets number nine species. Eight of them exist only in Africa, and the least - the lesser spotted genet - as it was mentioned already - also in Spain and in the adjacent areas of France, and also in Palestine. It has dark spots on a yellowish-grey background, just as in case of the leopard (admittedly, night-black genets are born in the same litter as the spotted ones). The animal is small - about a meter in length (but its shoulder height is five times less!), very graceful, dexterous, hunts at night and during the dusk, and during the day it hides in tree hollows, in cracks of cliffs, in dense, spiky shrubs. When a genet is stalking, its body is so dexterous, it so elegantly draped over the ground, then, the people say, and you can stare it at for hours. Its' jumps are also magnificent: two meters without a warm-up! It is a fine climber and swimmer.
The African civet is larger than the genet and more long-legged: it is approximately badger-sized. It is dark brown with black spots. On the muzzle, on the sides of the nose, where the whiskers grow, are white spots (but the coloration is very varied), up on the neck and through the spine is a short mane that the animal raises, when it is angry. It bends its back in a feline manner too, it grumbles and roars. The civets are nocturnal mammals. They are rarely seen during the day. They are worse tree-climbers than the genets are.
Africa is home to one more civet, mentioned above - the fish-eater. None of the Europeans have yet seen it alive. The natives know little about this animal too: they do not even have a name for it. South Asia is home for four other species of civets. Of them, the small Indian civet is the smallest and is very similar to the genet.
The linsangs (one African species and two Asian) in appearance and behavior are very genet-like as well, just as the palm martens, or the palm civets, are. They cause immense damage to the plantations, eating at nights the flowers and shoots of the palms and the pineapples. The Asian, or the common palm marten, eats even the fruits of the coffee trees, even though it cannot digest the coffee seeds and in abundance 'sows' them in the rainforests after such a meal. All of the palm martens are found in South Asia, except for one species (and genus) - the African palm civet. Its homeland is Western Africa. Two big light spots on the shoulders, aside from the multitude of black ones on its body, distinguish this mammal.
After a quick review of all their relatives it is time to talk about the mongooses - undoubtedly, the most interesting members of the viverrid family. There are dozens of various species, mostly African, but plenty of Asian too.
The dwarf mongoose, black with golden spots, lives in Java, Sumatra, and India: its length is 50 cm including the tail. This 'gilded' mongoose and the weasel are the tiniest carnivorous mammals on our planet. The common Indian mongoose - the famous Rikki-Tikki-Tavi - is praised by Kipling for valour and invincibility in deadly fights with venomous snakes. It is astonishing, how calmly, confidentially, courageously and dexterously it fights with death. Its snarling muzzle quivers with fury several centimetres below the open mouth of the cobra. In one uncatchable movement, in a lightning strike aimed forwards, the snake's head covers these centimetres. A quarter of a second lasts the snake attack: strike forwards, the bite and the return to the original position. But the mongoose is able to notice this strike and dodge. Excellent vigilance and a reaction of an unbelievable speed. Only that saves the mongoose. For the mongoose has neither body armor nor sufficiently effective antidotes in blood.
The fury in a fight and the art of attacking bravely and quickly, so quickly, that it is impossible to follow, to attack and not to flee, even when dealing with a strong and big animal, and to bite, unrelentlessly bite - this is what almost all mongooses are famous for. They say that if a mongoose bites a leg, it is like having a sewing machine run it through.
But before attacking, the mongoose (at least the striped one) honestly warns its enemy. Raising its fur, it twitches in an arc and piercingly squeals. It was small, dexterous, and long, and suddenly it became round and instantly doubled before one's eyes! It is best to keep away from such sorcery, almost everyone with decide. And if caution will not immediately suggest this wise decision, and whoever that had received this ultimatum of a ruffled ball of boiling fury, will hesitate, and then the mongoose will attack with 'the speed of a javelin'.
The striped mongooses (maybe the others as well) have one more strange threat - 'a gallop on the spot'. Bending its back, the mongoose appears to quickly run to the uninvited guest, but instead it just jumps on one spot, throwing up either front or hind limbs. This is all accompanied by the vocals that are produced by its throat and which is so piercing that, as we already know, can scare an eagle.
The birds of prey constantly threaten the mongooses and therefore the animals attentively watch the skies. Wherever they go, whatever they do, one or another head will go up and look up. If they see in the blue skies the malicious floating silhouette, they cry 'vaauk-vaauk'. It is a warning to all the comrades, a signal of an aerial alarm.
One inexperienced mongoose female, after seeing a crane in the sky, cried as if there was an eagle above it. The male mongoose just looked at the bird and calmly looked away, doing its business: it dug with the sharp talons, uncovered caterpillars and various insects. Its entire appearance seemed to say, 'Why are you bothering me with such nonsense!'
The mongooses are talkative. The sounds that their throat is capable of producing are very different: snarling, squeals, a certain clucking warning: 'Don't touch me!', an almost dog-like bark - the sound of a general alarm. When they are taking their almost mature offspring (usually it's a family outing: the father, the mother, and the children following them) and one pup will fall behind, then the father or mother cry in short bursts, in high notes. And the pup rushes to them.
At an alarm call the pups immediately run to the mother and huddle around it. The mother leads them to a safer place and they do not break away for a step, for a centimeter, as if they were tied together. The mother runs - the pups run right next to it. The mother stops - the pups stop as well.
The babyhood, the childhood and the teenage years of the striped mongooses go by fast: at 9 months of age comes maturity and the family issues tied with it. They usually bear four tiny, blind, almost naked pups, each weighing about 30 g. They grow quickly, and soon milk is not enough, they want meat! Mother greedily extorts it from father, but does not eat that meat by itself, but carries it in the mouth: it runs around the pups, offering to pull a piece from the mouth. As soon as somebody tries to do that, it puts the meat to the ground and waits for the pup to taste it. If it gets a banana, it does the same thing. Thus the patient mother gives its pups a taste to the fruits of the earth.
And the father? The father's here, nearby. But its job is foremost the guard duty. The warnings of true dangers come primarily from it. The mother is calm when the father is around. Mother, when the pups are just few days old, leaves them to the watchful and brave spouse, can leave to do personal business. The latter, no matter what it is busy with, immediately will come there, will look after the pups and smell them. All is in order, and then the male will leave, for it has enough to do as well. The insects, the caterpillars, the bird eggs, the fruits - all of that must be acquired, dug out. The burrow must be dug out or renovated. The striped mongooses hide in their burrows from enemies and the sun. But they like to take sunbaths too, when it is not very hot. Then they are curious, sitting upright, looking to the sides and into the sky.
Like the striped mongooses, the ichneumons, the largest of the mongooses (up to a meter long, but their height is only 20 cm), live in friendly families. They hunt, once the pups get older, thusly: in the front, stalking in the shadows of the shrubs, upturned earth, grass, is the ichneumon father, right next is the mother, right after the mother following all of the turns, are the young ichneumons. Whoever saw them would think that a big snake crawls on the ground. 'Ichneumon' in ancient Egyptian means a 'sleuth'. For millennia in Nile's delta the builders of the pyramids venerated it for courage, for extermination of snakes and crocodile eggs.
The ichneumon is the inhabitant of Northern Africa, Asia Minor and South Europe (Spain, Dalmatia).
The Central and South Africa are inhabited by the swamp, or aquatic, mongoose. It is longer-legged than the ichneumon is, and almost black in color. It swims and dives excellently, and the potential, developing-under-the-eggshells, crocodile offspring are exterminated even more efficiently than the holy 'sleuth' does. The female crocodiles, always worried about its attacks, are condemned to watch their eggs. Only that saves them from the black mongooses.
A bird is not a crocodile. Few of them scare the mongooses, and therefore they bravely steal bird eggs. Their behavior is thus: they grab an egg in their forepaws, stand upright on their hind limbs, and drop the egg onto the ground from their maximum height. It, naturally, cracks, and then the mongoose licks it up.
The mongooses (almost everyone has its own) have a born instinct to crack eggs. Some, grabbing an egg with its hind, not front, legs, break it, backing into a rock or a tree.
The close relatives of the mongooses are the meercats - peculiar animals! Externally they are slightly similar to the lemurs. In amusing poses (stretching on the toes of the hind legs and their tails) they warm in the sun or look in alarm for the enemies in the dry savannahs of South Africa.
They live not in solitude, but in colonies - each family has its own burrow, but all burrows are located close to each other. At night they sleep underground. During the day they sit at their burrows in the marmot style - upright, folding the front legs on their chests, they warm up and talk to each other. Or, walking a slight distance to the side, seek insect larvae, spiders, centipedes, various roots, and of course, if they are nearby, bird eggs.
One educational tale is tied with the mongooses, which must serve as an example that not every acclimatization is good from the start.
The white landowners have introduced very poisonous bothrops snakes to the island of Jamaica (and several other island of the Caribbean Sea). Their train of thought was as follows: the African slaves flee into the jungles and swamps and hide there. Therefore, for the fugitives to have no luck living on the run, from the venomous creatures, the snakes were brought from South America and released there. The latter reproduced so quickly, that soon even the landowners in their haciendas could not get away from them. Then the rats took over Jamaica - 20% of the sugar cane harvest perished from them.
Deciding now to get rid of both rats and snakes, in 1844 giant toads were introduced to Jamaica: they had the reputation of fearless devourers of both young rats and snakes. But the toads did not live up to their reputation.
Finally, in 1872, somebody had the idea of turning to the mongooses for help.
4 males and 5 females were brought. They quickly adapted and reproduced. After 10 years their descendants ate all the rats (but not all the snakes, since the snakes of the New World, quicker in their attacks that the cobras and the vipers, often win the fights with the mongooses!). Then the mongooses began to destroy piglets, lambs, cats, guinea pigs, solenodons, lizards, birds, and soon became a true plague of Egypt for all animals on the island.
The mongooses were also acclimatized on Fiji, but whether happily or no, is not yet clear.
SPEEDSTER ON 'SPIKES'
The lion has risen far in human opinion. Whether it is a king in name alone or by nature let us not argue, because both are real only in human imagination. The lion has 35 different relatives of different sizes. They are best divided into the following categories: big cats, lynxes and small cats. All big cats (and lynxes) have a vertical eye pupil, all small cats (except for the clouded leopard) - have a vertically stretched eye shape. The big cats (except for the clouded leopard, the snow leopard and the puma) cannot purr. The small cats, on the other hand - cannot roar.
Large cats amount to 8 species: the lion, the tiger, the cheetah, the jaguar, the snow leopard, the puma, the panther (or the common leopard) and the clouded leopard.
The middle-sized (lynxes) and the small cats - amount to another 28 species.
These mammals are carnivorous, dexterous, all, except for the cheetah, have retractable claws.
The cheetah is the fastest mammal on Earth. Neither horse nor antelope can outrun it. And not even every car: 112 km/h! That is according to the official data. And unofficially some hunters with stopwatches in hand had measured the cheetah's speed and say: 140 km/h! But that is hardly so. Such a speed is biologically unnecessary: everything that is prey to the cheetah does not run faster than 60-70 km/h.
The male cheetahs have a small, barely noticeable mane. The cubs have a silvery mane all over their backs. After 10 weeks after birth they lose both the mane and the ability to retract their claws. After the South American maned wolf the cheetah is the carnivorous mammal with the longest legs. It is the only cat whose claws don't retract. Consequently it runs as a sprinter does, with 'spikes'.
For high speed one needs open spaces with hard soil. The savannahs of Africa, the steppes of Arabia, south Turkmenia and India are the native element for the cheetahs.
They hunt alone or in pairs, thusly: from a distance - and the vision of the cheetahs is excellent - the cheetah takes a long look at the herd of gazelles or wild sheep. The herbivores, suspecting nothing, graze upon grass under bright noon sun (the cheetah, obviously, hunts during the day). Some antelope has caught the predator's attention. Why exactly it? Because the nature during its millions of years of existence has taught persuasively: hunger is an unpleasant thing, you must act for sure. Cheetah, learning from its lessons, chose a weaker-looking animal to prevent a misfire.
It chose and it crawls, close to the ground, unseen and patient. It reached as close as it can - and suddenly appeared before the herd like a nightmarish mirage. The cheetah just got up and is already running, leaving behind its tail twenty meters per second - a truly fantastic, unbelievable acceleration for everything that moves with levers and even with wheels. The victim is reached and receives a crushing swing with a paw over the backbone or the neck. The strike is so strong that the gazelle goes head over heels, for the cheetah is powered not just by strength, but by the body kinetics as well.
Of course, in life all sorts of accidents occur. Therefore the hunt does not go so smoothly. It happens that the cheetah flies past an already dodged antelope and before it stops, there is already a great distance between the two. It then does not pursue, and carelessly, hiding disappointment, goes elsewhere, as if it has just scared the gazelle for the fun of it. The cheetah is incapable of marathon running - it is a sprinter: it usually does not run for more than 400 meters.
The cheetah tames easily. If it is treated humanely, it is as loyal as a dog is. And just as irreplaceable on a hunt.
'Rostislav called Svyatoslav to his place for dinner and rode to him without any secret thoughts... Rostislav gave to Svyatoslav sables, and stoats, and black martens, and arctic foxes, and white wolves, and fish teeth. Next morning Svyatoslav called Rostislav to his place for dinner and they had just as much enjoyment as they did yesterday. Svyatoslav gave to Rostislav a hunting leopard and two fast horses and a mastercraft saddle' (Kiev scripture).
It is an old hunt: Moscow did not exist, and the Russian princes already chased the saigas with the cheetahs in the wide steppes. In Russia the tamed cheetahs were called the hunting leopards and were highly valued at that time. And even earlier, 5000 years before, people hunted with cheetahs in Ancient Babylon and Egypt. And they still hunt: in India. And in Rhodesia police and army officers hunt with cheetahs: on people with dark skin...
Strangely, after being born after a three-month pregnancy, the cheetah cubs are not spotted. After all, spots and stripes - is a more primitive condition than a monotonous coloration. Therefore, due to certain atavistic laws even non-spotted and non-stripped mammals (lions, pumas, tapirs, boars for example) the offspring are often spotted or striped.
THE SNOW LEOPARD OR THE OUNCE
In the old times the ounce was the name of the true leopard. Even now this is the animal's name in Caucasus. But the snow leopard is not the true leopard, though the two big cats are similar. Both of them got black spots on smoky-grey hide (sometimes, black snow leopards appear as well). However, the fur is long and fluffy, especially on the belly, sometimes up to 12 cm long. The snow leopard is a mountain mammal (lives on Altai, Pamir, Tian Shan, Himalayas and the Mongolian highlands). High altitude mountains too - up to 2-3 thousand meters. And during the summer, when following the mountain ungulates, the snow leopards go even higher - up to 6 thousand meters. In the mountains, as you know, it is not hot even during the summer, and during the winter it is downright chilly.
The snow leopard (or the ounce - it is the same animal) can stalk for hours mountain turkeys or sheep from a cliff or from beneath it. But overall it is a universal hunter: it hunts everything - from mice to yaks, on occasion. It avoids people, and its character, apparently, is more benevolent than that of a panther or a tiger.
The snow leopards like to play and roll in the snow. In spread eagle poise they ride down the mountain on their backs, and at the end they quickly turn around and land in a snow pile feet first. They are great lovers of luxury. After a morning hunt, after playing, they find a more comfortable spot and warm themselves in the sun.
Their usual habitat are rhododendron shrubs, and in places - alpine meadows and naked rocks at the very edge of permafrost. There they live in pairs, the male and the female.
In spring the female gives birth to 2 to 4 kittens. The lair is in a comfortable crack (sometimes - in a vulture nest on a small tree!). The female warms the lair with its fur, pulling it off the belly. Other cats, other than the wild cat, are apparently incapable of such self-sacrifice. The milk of the snow leopard is fatty, five times more nutritious than that of a cow.
The snow leopard is a good father, it helps the female raise their kittens.
An old snow leopard weighs 75 kg, its large size and other features put it close to the roaring cats, but it has some characters from the smaller felines as well. For example, when a snow leop-ard is in a good mood, it purrs (as do the puma and the clouded leopard), but it can also growl. Some of the zoologists call the clouded leopard, the snow leopard and the puma - the giant small cats.