home   about   search

biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Atilax paludinosus (Marsh mongoose, Water mongoose)

kommetjiegatmuishond [Afrikaans]; Sumpfichneumon, Sumpfmanguste [German]; mangouste des marais [French]; nguchiro wa maji [Swahili]; imvuzi [isiNdebele]; umhlangala [isiXhosa]; umvuzi [isiZulu]; motswitswi [Sesotho]; tshaagane [Setswana]; chidzvororo [Shona]; liduha [siSwati]; mukala [Lozi]; ugwagara [Yei]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Synapsida (mammal-like reptiles) > Therapsida > Theriodontia >  Cynodontia > Mammalia (mammals) > Placentalia (placental mammals) > Laurasiatheria > Ferungulata > Ferae > Carnivora > Family: Herpistidae (suricates and mongooses)

Atilax paludinosus (Marsh mongoose), Rondevlei Nature Reserve. [photo Trevor Hardaker ]

Atilax paludinosus (Marsh mongoose, Water mongoose)

Atilax paludinosus (Marsh mongoose), Walter Sisulu Botanical gardens, Gauteng, South Africa. [photo Callie de Wet ]


The marsh (or water) mongoose is the most aquatic of all the mongoose species. Its coarse coat is shaggy and uniformly dark –brown. The animals do vary from reddish brown to almost black in colour. While it has a typical elongated mongoose body shape, its shaggy coat makes it look less slender. The head is long and pointed with short hair, the ears are small and rounded and situated on the sides of the head. The feet are also covered in short hair and there is no webbing present between the toes. The toes have long non-retractile claws that are adapted for digging. An unfamiliar animal to many people it is often confused with an otter although it is much smaller and darker in colour. The canines are heavily built with narrow blade like process on the front and back edges, but these teeth do tend to wear to blunted points. The carnassial teeth show a clear adaptation to crushing rather than slicing.


Body length 80-100 cm; shoulder height 22 cm; weight range 2.5 –5.5 kg.

Dental Formula

I C P M = 36-40

Distribution and habitat

Widespread throughout southern Africa, but does not occur in the arid interior. Associated with well-watered areas, dams, estuaries, lakes, vleis, swamps and along rivers and streams.

General behaviour

As its name suggests the marsh mongoose is closely associated with water and although it may range some distance from water at times. They also utilize temporary stream beds where there are pools, and will forage along beaches and in tidal rock pools in coastal areas. Aquatic food is hunted in the shallows and it uses its feet to dig in the mud and to feel under rocks and in crevices. It opens fresh water mussels by using its front feet to throw them backwards through its back legs against rocks. Prey items collected in the water are taken to the drier water edge to be eaten.

Mainly nocturnal, they may also be active in the late afternoon and early morning. Marsh mongooses are usually solitary although they may be seen in pairs and females accompanied by young. Their home ranges tend to follow the line of the river bed or the banks of the water body. As would be expected this mongoose swims very well but apparently not readily, and they spend most of their time wading in the shallows. They will fully submerge with their eyes open in search for prey. They use latrine sites at the water’s edge where they accumulate their droppings. During the day they lie up in “forms” (shallow depressions in the ground or grass), usually concealed under bushes amongst some grass.


Predominantly crabs (particularly Potamonautes) and amphibians (frogs and toads) but diet also includes small rodents, birds, fish, insects, reptiles and some wild fruits.


Each female holds a territory. After a gestation period of about 60 days, litters of 1 – 3 young are born and hidden in burrows, rock crevices or in dense undergrowth. At birth the pups are fully furred, but their eyes and ears are closed opening after about a fortnight. Weaning starts at about a month and at 3 months the young will start killing their own rodent prey. Life span: 16 years (in captivity).


Mongooses are widespread and a successful group and no species is known to be in danger of extinction.

Text by Denise Hamerton