These small, carnivorous mammals belong to the family Mustelidae, which includes African weasels, such as the African striped or white-naped weasel (Poecilogale albinucha), zorilla or African striped polecat (Ictonyx striatus), ratel or honey badger (Mellivora capensis), spotted-necked otter (Lutra maculicollis) and the cape clawless otter (Aonyx capensis). They have elongated, flattened bodies, powerful jaws and relatively large brains. Except for otters, all these mammals have a striking horizontal black and white pattern.
They inhabit woodland, bushland and grasslands and tend to use one or more dens (holes in the ground) as bases. Otters are rarely far from river banks. Weasels and zorilla are mainly nocturnal; ratels are active most times except noon; otters are diurnal.
In general Mustelids are quite vocal, especially when annoyed. Otters are very vocal and have a range of twitters and chirps which serve as contact calls.
Few other animals will attack them due to their repulsive anal gland secretion and, in the case of ratel, its ferociousness. Weasels may be at risk from large owls. Otters are taken by crocodiles and rock pythons; zorillas are often run over by cars.
Otters live in small family groups of less than 10. Not much is known about their breeding behaviour except that a pair may consort temporarily for several months during the breeding season. Gestation is presumed to be two months.
Mustelids take almost any living prey smaller than or equal to their own body size. The zorillaís diet has been measured to consist of nearly 50 percent insects, 25 percent small mammals and the rest made up of birds, amphibians, spiders and plant material. Rodents are the main item in the ratelís diet although it may catch small antelopes.
Otters feed mainly on aquatic food such as crabs, fish, frogs, molluscs and insects which they catch during dives of about one and a half minutes each.
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