Supersynchrony in Banded Mongoose females

Banded Mongoose females have a unique system of supersynchrony when they have their babies – they all give birth on the same night.

The Banded Mongoose (Mungos mungo) is a small carnivorous mammal found in central and eastern Africa – and one of 25 African species of mongoose. It is related to the Meerkat.

Most mongooses are solitary, but the Banded Mongoose lives in a colony of about 20 individuals, and up to 55 individuals. The colony lives underground in burrows, called dens.

Banded Mongoose

Francis Mwanguhya, field manager of the Banded Mongoose Research Project in western Uganda (which was established in 1995) says that the hierarchical system in the colony is led by multiple dominant females, based upon their age. There are also 2-3 dominant males, and their main role is to produce babies. The rest of the males are celibate. The work of the Banded Mongoose Research Project was reported in New Scientist in January 2023.

In the colony, every female is permitted to have babies. The female gives birth to 2-6 babies, after a pregnancy of 60-70 days. The babies are called pups.

The Banded Mongoose females have a breeding mechanism known as supersynchrony. Synchrony means that things happen at the same time. Supersynchrony, for the Banded Mongoose females, means that all the pregnant females give birth on the same night, and this occurs four times a year. This supersynchrony is a unique feature of their social system.

Scientists are uncertain how and why this happens. They know that the females mate during one week, and then some females give birth prematurely to ensure that the babies are born on the same night. If a pregnant female fails to have her babies on time, then all of the babies – every single one of them – are killed. 

After the pups are born on the same night, they get mixed up and they don’t know which female is their mother. All the mothers look after all the babies, and even males babysit the pups. 

The babies leave the den after about 4 weeks to learn how to find food. Each pup has an escort, or helper, to help them find food (like scorpions) for a month. The escort is a female (their mother or another female), or a young male. This is also another unique feature of their parenting and social system.

Scientists are interested in the Banded Mongoose because it is a good model to study the evolution of cooperative behaviour and supersynchrony. 

Banded Mongoose
Banded Mongoose
Banded Mongoose

Location of photographs: Kenya

Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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