Banded mongooses live together in big troops. Unlike most troops of animals, the young don’t venture off into the world to find or found troops of their own. There are consequences to families staying together, and the mongoose avoids them in a way we still don’t understand.
There’s a reason males and female animals tend to break off from their natal group and before they mate. If a young animal stays with their family group once they are sexually mature, they will mate with their family. Nearly every group of herding animals has come up with ways to get around this. Even animals that keep together throughout their lives come up with a creative solutions. Orcas, whose children stay in their family group for their whole lives, will get together with another pod of whales for an interpod orgy when it’s time to mate.
Up until now scientists thought that banded mongooses were a weird exception to the rule. The mongooses live together in large groups, but their children aren’t expelled as they reach sexual maturity. They don’t meet up with other groups. They seemed to just have sex with their own relatives and do just fine.
Scientists from the University of Exeter spent some time collecting genetic data from herds of banded mongooses in Uganda. They also observed the mongoose’s behavior towards each other, and noticed an odd behavior. In any group of mongooses, the males will go for the females that are least related to them, and females respond in kind. The scientists don’t know exactly how they are doing it. This is the first time anyone has seen this mechanism being used to avoid familial breeding. It’s possible that it might be scent-related, and members that are too closely related smell off-putting to each other. For now we have to accept that mongooses have an unknown, but demonstrable, anti-incest power.
Not the best superpower to have, but when you look at the number of “secret children” that pop up in superhero stories, this could be an important power.
Yeah. I’m looking at you, Arrow.
[Source: Molecular Ecology]
Image: Jenni Sanderson, University of Exeter.