Infant mongooses rely on adults to escort them as they learn to forage. A new study from the University of Exeter reports that adult mongooses show no preference for their own offspring when choosing a pup to escort, and the authors suggest they may not be able to tell their own kin apart.
This is a surprising finding, because evolutionary theory predicts that adults should try to help their own offspring, with whom they share the most genes. We might expect to see that adult mongooses offer more care to their own pups – but that’s not what the study found. Instead, adults paired with pups to escort at random.
Revealing their identity might put pups at risk of aggression from other members of the pack, so Mongooses evolved to conceal their identity from adults in order to maximise the help their receive from the whole pack.
“In most species we would expect mothers to target care at their own offspring, but mongooses seem unable to do this,” said Dr Emma Vitikainen from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation in Cornwall.
“We think this is because mothers synchronise birth to the same day, and pups may have evolved to conceal their identity.”
While adults showed no pattern of pairing with pups that were more closely related to them, once paired, male mongooses tended to spend longer escorting pups that they were more closely related to. However, the authors point out that this doesn’t necessarily mean they know the pup is related to them – they may simply tend to pair with related pups for longer because they have similar foraging habits (because they share genes).
Based on these results, it seems likely that adult mongooses are unable to tell which pups are their own, which may help ensure that all pups get the same quality of care, and avoid aggression from unrelated pack members.
Want to Know More?
Featured image used under a CC-BY 4.0 License from Royal Society Publishing.