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Mongoose with female ribbons start wars so that they can mate with rival men

By Donna Lu

Banded mongoose in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

Alamy Stock Photo

Ribbed female mongooses lead their groups into conflict with rivals so that they can mate with males from neighboring areas during the fight, while males in their own groups are distracted.

Michael Cant of the University of Exeter in the UK and his colleagues have been studying groups of wild mongoose in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda for 25 years.

Banded mongoose are very territorial and live in groups of around 20 adults who clash violently with rival groups up to three times a month. The researchers suspected that women led their groups into these battles with rival groups to look for new partners.

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“Linked mongoose groups are so closed,” says Cant. “Hardly anyone leaves the company, so over time a certain degree of kinship develops within the group.”

Female mongooses in the same group go into the heat synchronously and give birth to pups on the same day. While the females are in heat, the males shade the female group members and protect them from rival companions of the same group.

The team recorded video footage of women mating in conflict with men in rival groups, at moments when they were not guarded by their own husbands. They found that when the women were in heat, the likelihood of a fight increased. They say this suggests that the women are more likely than the men to initiate their groups and lead them into struggles.

“The likelihood of getting involved in these fights increases as the group ages and the level of inbreeding in the group increases,” says Cant.

The researchers compared the offspring produced by matings between 499 males and 377 females, and found that engaging in more intergroup conflicts increased the number of pups produced and their survival rate more in females than males.

The behavior is an example of exploitative leadership, Cant says, as the adult women gain reproductive benefits while the rest of the group suffers: puppies and adult males are killed more than women in battles.

“Organized collective violence goes far beyond humans and the species that humans normally think of. [such as] Chimpanzees, ”says Cant.

Journal reference: PNAS, DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.2003745117

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