Like many other mongooses, Herpestes auropunctatus has a slim body and short legs, an elongated head and pointed muzzle. At its base, the species’ tail is very muscular and tapers throughout its length. The small Indian mongoose can measure between 50 to 67 centimeters. Their short ears barely protrude beyond their short-haired, pale to dark-brown flecked coat. Young animals have blue green eyes, which turn amber or brown as they mature. Males are larger than females, with a wider head and more robust body.
It is believed that mongooses were first introduced to Mauritius towards the mid19th Century, but the authorities noticed its insatiable appetite for poultry, so they promptly eliminated the introduced population. Following a plague epidemic in 1899, the government brought in 20 male individuals to help control the rat population. Unfortunately, the 20 individuals were not all male – it is believed that there were in fact three females; this led to the widespread proliferation of the species throughout the island.
The small Indian mongoose is reported to prefer dry habitats, grassland and secondary growth to dense forest.In Mauritius however, a study found that this species favoured woodland and scrub regions, and preferred riverine and dense forest at larger spatial scales. Rocky areas, long grass such as sugar cane plantations, short grass and paths are also the habitat of choice for the mongoose in Mauritius. The species is also found around human habitations.
Small Indian mongooses are generally carnivorous and prey on small mammals such as rats, birds, small reptiles and amphibians, invertebrates and plant material. The species shows a high degree of versatility in its dietary choices, which has contributed to its invasive nature.
Mongooses are known to breed two or three times a year with some breeding peaks but no specific breeding season, and females who are sexually mature at the age of 10 months usually bear litters of three young.
Small Indian mongooses have a very wide native range and are therefore not considered at any level to be threatened by extinction. The species is nevertheless protected under CITES as it is traded as a pet. It is listed in the Global Invasive Species Database of the IUCN and in Mauritius, they have been blamed for the elimination of some introduced game birds and the decline of endemic species such as the 'Endangered (EN)' pink pigeon.
The genus of the species Herpestes is considered the oldest of the order Carnivora - dating back approximately 30 million years.