You may have heard that mongooses hunt and kill snakes. You may have even witnessed a mongoose fighting a snake, either in person or in a video. But have you ever wondered at the reason behind these fights? Why are mongooses and snakes enemies? Why and how do mongooses kill snakes, and what gives these unlikely little mammals the edge in a fight? Keep reading to find out more!
What You'll Learn Today
Why Do Mongooses Kill Snakes?
Mongooses are fierce hunters, but they generally won’t kill for no reason. Most of the time, they kill them to eat them, as snakes are a staple food in a mongoose’s diet.
The Indian gray mongoose is one of the most well-known snake killers, known for taking on the king cobra, one of the deadliest snakes in the world. These mongooses hunt and kill these snakes in their natural habitat, eating them all the way to the venom sacs.
Mongooses may also kill snakes out of self-defense and to protect their babies, as some types of snakes hunt mongooses as well and can easily snatch unattended pups.
Mongooses kill many different kinds of snakes, but cobras are pretty high up on the list. Mongooses are largely immune to the venom of poisonous snakes, as we’ll discuss in greater detail in a few minutes.
Despite their natural immunity to venom, mongooses that pick fights with snakes can still face risks of injury or death. Many snakes, especially cobras, are much larger than mongooses and can put up a pretty substantial fight; sometimes, they end up killing the mongoose before the mongoose can kill the snake.
Even if the mongoose successfully kills the snake, it will sometimes die while eating it. The snake’s fangs can penetrate the mongoose’s stomach or some other part of the digestive tract, causing internal bleeding and leakage of fluids that can quickly turn deadly.
How Do Mongooses Kill Snakes?
When a mongoose hunts a snake, the fight often starts out looking like the snake has the edge.
Mongooses often appear rather harmless, sniffing around the snake like a curious little mammal that may seem tentative at first. The snake, on the other hand may coil, hiss, and (if it’s a cobra) flare out its fan as a warning to the mongoose to back off.
The snake will likely strike first, attempting to scare off the mongoose, and may even bite it if it moves quickly enough. But this initial bite will not harm the mongoose, and in many cases the mongoose moves quickly enough to avoid the bite in the first place.
This “dance” of predators may continue for several moments, with the snake making repeated attempts to strike the mongoose and the mongoose deftly avoiding the attacks. Then, all at once, the mongoose will strike, suddenly biting down on the snake’s head, incapacitating it and preventing it from fighting back.
The snake may die instantly from this attack; if not, the mongoose will whip it around, smacking it repeatedly against the ground until it dies.
Check out this video of a mongoose killing a cobra.
Why Are Mongooses Immune to Snake Venom?
According to Animal Facts Encyclopedia, mongooses are not completely immune to all snake venom, but they are “relatively tolerant” of it.
As a point of comparison, a human can die from a cobra bite in as little as half an hour. The venom affects the nervous system, quickly shutting disabling the brain and nerves and thereby affecting other major organ systems in a matter of minutes.
But if a mongoose is bitten by a cobra, it may not sustain any negative effects from the initial bite. Why is this?
Mongooses have a certain neurotransmitter in their brains called acetylcholine. The acetylcholine receptors bind to the venom in the bloodstream, basically neutralizing them and preventing them from binding to the mongoose’s nervous system.
If the toxins can’t bind to the nervous system, they will pass harmlessly through the animal’s bloodstream, eventually being filtered out through its kidneys and liver.
Multiple snake bites may overwhelm a mongoose’s natural defense, which in turn will permit a certain amount of the venom to reach its nervous system. The mongoose will slow down, allowing the snake to continue striking, eventually killing the mongoose.
However, in most cases, snakes don’t even get in that first bite before the mongoose kills them.
Mongoose Vs. Cobra: Who Wins?
Mongooses have many natural strengths against cobras.
For one thing, mongooses are perhaps the only animal quick enough to dodge cobras’ attempts at lashing out, and they can usually strike more quickly than cobras can. All it takes is a single crushing bite to the snake’s head to incapacitate or kill it instantly.
That said, the snake usually lashes out first, while the mongoose approaches more cautiously. If the snake is quick enough and manages to bite the mongoose multiple times, it may slow it down enough to go in for the killing blow.
According to experts, mongooses will win about 75 to 80 percent of their encounters with venomous snakes, so in most cases, the mongoose comes out on top.
Can a Mongoose Kill a Human?
You may be wondering: if cobras can kill humans, and mongooses can kill cobras, can mongooses also, by extension, kill humans?
Generally speaking, the answer is no.
Mongooses are much smaller and have no specific strengths against humans. In fact, they tend to avoid us as much as possible because they realize there isn’t much they could do to fight against us.
That said, if a mongoose were infected with rabies, it might go mad and attack a human, passing the infection to the human through bite marks or scratches. If not treated promptly with a rabies shot, the attacked human will most likely die from the infection.
Do Mongooses Have a “Fighting Sound”?
Mongooses frequently make high-pitched hissing and screeching noises when they fight, but they have no distinctive “fighting sound” that they always use when fighting. Sometimes, they may even fight silently.
Mongooses are notorious for their ability to hunt and kill venomous snakes. Their natural immunity to snake venom, along with their ability to strike suddenly and kill immediately, make them one of the few animals in the world that poisonous snakes such as the king cobra have cause to fear.