Biology students and faculty study mongoose diet in US Virgin Islands


In mid-May, Associate Professor Karen Powers and RU Biology students travelled to the US Virgin Islands (USVI) to study the diet of the Small Indian Mongoose. As an invasive, omnivorous predator on St. John (USVI), the Small Indian Mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus) is capable of severely impacting the native populations of birds, reptiles, and invertebrates on the island.

Photos below describe many aspects of the project. 

Pictured to the left are: Shane Brandes, Keifer Titus, and Heather Custer. They are shaving fur from a captured mongoose. The fur sample can be analyzed to infer diet in this individual.



Pictured to the left is the first of 50 captured Small Indian Mongoose during this trip. The animals were weighed, measured, and photos of their teeth were used to estimate age (via tooth wear).

Fur also was collected for stable isotope analyses - a procedure that can be used to determine diet "preferences" for the life of that hair.



Pictured to the left is a captured mongoose. The animals were captured in these live traps (Tomahawks), which were baited with scraps from the crew's meals. As an omnivore, mongoose could be captured using nearly any type of human food items as bait.

These weasel-like animals weigh 300-850 grams, and can live 4 or more years in the wild. Introduced to the Caribbean to control the invasive black rat (Rattus rattus) populations, they did little to curve the rat populations. Rats are nocturnal, while mongoose are diurnal.



Here, the team works together to remove a mongoose safely from the trap.

Powers has been studying mongoose on St. John since 2008, typically working with students in the Tropical Field Biology course. This work has resulted in two research publications with RU biology students as co-authors. This current study will be submitted for publication in 2017, with all crew members as co-authors. 

Pictured are Keifer Titus, Heather Custer, and Karen Powers (with sleeping toddler Powers).



This research project is a collaborative project with Virginia Military Institute. Collaborator Dr. Pieter deHart is currently using stable isotope analyses (carbon-13 and nitrogen-15) to infer diet. 

This project was funded by a CSAT Faculty Research Grant awarded to Powers.



Jul 27, 2016
Karen Powers