The Famous Mortal Enemies: Mongooses Versus Snakes

The Famous Mortal Enemies: Mongooses Versus Snakes

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Human beings have been known to be prone to the art of waging wars against one another for as long as they have been known to exist as a species. Extremely bloody wars have been fought among humans for many different reasons to list; the most common one, for supremacy over one another. History is littered with well-documented ugly wars, most famously; the two separate World Wars that divided the world and almost tore it into pieces, as well as several civil wars within several countries across several continents at separate times. In this regard, humans can be said to have perfected the art of warfare in a way that no other species can match. However, this cannot be any further from the truth.

Holding grudges and making mortal enemies out of one another is not a character trait that is exclusive to just humans alone. Despite the well-publicized higher brain functions that humans reportedly have as an advantage over every other living species that puts them on top of the food chain, animals are also known to detest each other past the point of survival. Two of such famous mortal enemies in the animal kingdom are snakes and mongooses.

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Mongooses are carnivorous animals that are commonly known to possess brown or gray grizzled fur. They are terrestrial mammals that are primarily found in mainland Africa, parts of southern Asia, and the Iberian Peninsula. They are also introduced species in Fiji, Puerto Rico and some Caribbean and Hawaiian islands.

Unlike mongooses, cobras need no introduction due to their iconic reputation that has garnered them respect and fear in equal measure. The name references any various species of venomous snakes that can most commonly be found in southern Africa, through southern Asia, and to some of the islands in Southern Asia. They are poisonous snakes with hollow fangs at the front of the mouth and an excellent sense of smell and night vision. They are also renowned for their trademark threatening hoods and intimidating postures when they stand erect with the upper portion of their bodies and spread their hoods.

The king cobras are the most feared of the cobra family as they are the world’s longest species of venomous snakes and are known to hunt other snakes for food.

Many species of cobras are known to prey on mainly other snakes (most especially the largely-feared king cobras), birds and small mammals. Cobras are mainly hunted by predators like other snakes, birds of prey and small predatory mammals, most notably, mongooses.

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Mongooses, especially the Indian gray mongoose, are well known for their bold attacks against venomous snakes such as cobras. Due to their possession of receptors for acetylcholine in their bodies, it is impossible for snake neurotoxin venom to attach to them, thereby, making them nearly invincible to snakes. This seems to encourage mongooses to brazenly hunt and attack venomous snakes, even the feared king cobras, for sport.

The agility and thick coat of the mongooses endows them with special abilities specific to hunting snakes and killing them. The mongooses typically do not have an affinity for consuming cobra meat. This makes their constant attacks on cobras puzzling. However, they can sometimes eat the meat of a defeated adversary, but generally avoid doing so. The enmity that exists between mongooses and snakes is so famous that the internet is filled with YouTube videos of fights between them both.

The urine of mongooses is so potent that they are said to be able to repel snakes. Due to their vulnerability to mongooses, snakes, with their acute sense of smell, will acknowledge a mongoose’s scent and try to avoid it as much as possible because they are near incapable of defeating them. The only species of snakes that are known to have a fighting chance against mongooses are constrictors and vipers because they attack faster and more powerfully unlike cobras that are prone to losing their fighting energy quickly and susceptible to becoming easily overpowered.

The mongooses are said to have been venerated by Egyptians for their ability to hunt snakes. They are also common features of roadside shows in Pakistan where snake charmers pit them against snakes in mock fights.

The reputation of mongooses being natural enemies of snakes is so great that they were introduced into the Okinawa Island environment to combat the scourge of the local Habu snakes and other pests in 1910 as well as in Amami Oshima in 1979. However, the mongooses’ preying of many other local island species mean the experiments were not as successful as anticipated, and ironically, turned the mongooses into pests themselves.

Mongooses have also made appearances in popular culture, most famously in The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling in 1894. It is a short story set in India about Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, a young mongoose that saves his family from two cobras. Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm also features a mongoose that was purchased solely to hunt snakes.

The wars waged by mongooses and snakes against each other may not be as calculated or given proper rationale as the ones humans wage on one another, but it is just as deadly.

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