Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The heat is on

Spring is in the air (well, maybe it's the pollen from the knob thorns), and the mongooses are abuzz with romance.

Achren - the alpha female in Ecthelion - is in oestrus.

How do I know? From the panic in the alpha male's eyes.

You think I'm kidding? I'm not. You see, dwarf mongooses are not fair and equitable when it comes to love. Only the group's upper echelons have a chance of scoring, and the alpha pair monopolises most of the action. Old Merriman (Ecthelion's battle-scarred alpha) will sire around 80% of all baby Ecthelions. But it's not an easy job.

During the 3-4 days that Achren is in heat, Merriman will guard her constantly. He trots along, just inches from her side, obsessively scanning the group for rivals while she calmly forages. If any male dares to venture within a couple of feet, Merriman lunges viciously, sending the intruder fleeing amid a chorus of submissive squeaking. Of course supremacy comes at a price. Each time Merriman tries to dig up a bug, Achren (named after a beautiful but wicked enchantress in Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series) casually strolls on. Merriman's torment is obvious as he momentarily vacillates between pursuing the juicy larvae and escorting his true love. Love wins every time.

Merriman (named after the Old One, Great Uncle Merry, in Susan Cooper's 'The Dark is Rising' series) enjoying the fruits of his diligence.

But despite Merriman's best efforts, every ten minutes or so, he loses sight of Achren entirely. I feel like shouting "Don't panic", but it's to no avail. Merriman races about the group frantically, peering over and around group members, searching behind bushes and rocks, and calling with rising hysteria. Achren completely ignores this show of ardour and continues to forage unperturbed. Although it seems absurd, Merriman's panic is not without cause: he's not the only one tracking Achren's movement. The moment she's unattended, Merlin (the deputy alpha) comes racing from across the group to hurl himself on top of her. She just glances irritably at him over her shoulder and goes on scratching through the leaf litter. If she's interested in mating, she'll slink quietly away from the group, trailing him behind, his nose glued to her tail.

As you can imagine, by the end of the oestrus period, alpha males look gaunt and haggard. Their fur stares and you can almost see the dark rings under their eyes. Perhaps this is why they throw in the towel. On about the fourth day, they simply let the second-in-charge male take over. By the fifth day, it's the third male that's escorting her, and so on down the hierarchy. Even the little nine-month-old males will eventually indulge in a bit of hanky-panky with Mum. Is this how she guarantees that everyone helps raise her pups? 'This one is yours, dear.' Lucky they haven't figured out how to do DNA testing...

Alpha females are not backward in coming forward. Jasmine, Halycon's reigning monarch, invites passersby to sniff the goods.


  1. Now I wonder if I should call Merriman lucky or unlucky that he has the pick of the crop? The same thing happens in June/July with the Impalas and the male come out of that six week ordeal looking haggard, worn and downright pleased it is over for another year. LOL!! Well at least that is what I think.

    Watching baboons mate is funny too when the young ones try their luck and can hardly reach where they are supposed to. :) I love mating season and seeing the tricks all the males get up to. This is the best time to be in the bush and the next step is eagerly awaiting the first births. How wonderful to live in the bush and see all of this.

    Thanks Lynda, your post brings back such wonderful scenes which I recall.

  2. Well talk about keeping it in the family LoL !! at the end of the day it's the females that are in charge and they just let the Males think their in charge clever hey :)) this goes for every species I think including Humans :)

  3. Great post. Thanks to Joan for sending me here I have learnt a bit more about Africa. Diane

  4. Glad to see someone else takes the wildlife as it is.

  5. Sex is such hard work! We've stayed with the elk long enough to see the herd bull go from magnificant to much thinner and just plain tired.
    Facinating post!

  6. Joan,
    I prefer the 'new arrivals' period. Everyone just seems so stressed at this time of year!

    I guess females have more to lose (because they invest more in producing young), so they need to keep the males firmly in line. I'm sure you're used to it by now!

    Nice to hear from you.

    Life in Egypt,
    Ah, you'll find all the nitty gritty here!

    It makes me thankful I'm growing old, and can escape all the hype!


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