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name for a large number of small, carnivorous, terrestrial Old World mammals of the civet family. They are found in S Asia and in Africa, with one species extending into S Spain.
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(Herpestes ichneumon), also African mongoose, a predatory mammal of the genus Herpestes of the family Viverridae. The body length measures up to 65 cm, and the tail length up to 50 cm. The fur is brownish gray. The tail is covered with long hairs.
The ichneumon is distributed in North Africa, Asia Minor, and southwestern Europe (Iberian Peninsula); it has become acclimatized in Yugoslavia, in Italy, and on the island of Madagascar. It lives in thickets, sometimes near human habitation. A nocturnal animal, it feeds on small rodents, birds, snakes, and insects. It is beneficial for its extermination of snakes, but, contrary to popular belief, it is susceptible to their venom. The ichneumon sometimes destroys poultry.