A long-haired, short-legged, grey animal, roughly 65 cm long with a 45 cm long tail, subfamily of the Viverridae (civet cats). The ichneumon is common in Africa, and is still valued today as a exterminator of mice and particularly snakes.
The ichneumon (Herpestes ichneumon) has been a sacred animal in Egypt since the Middle Kingdom. Depending on which aspect of its being was being emphasized, it was associated with various gods and appears in various myths. Since the Pyramid Texts and the Coffin Texts right down to the medieval Physiologus, however, it has as a killer of snakes been linked in particular to the sun god. Its ability to catch snakes resulted in the myth that Re took on the shape of an ichneumon in order to fight Apophis. This solar identification explains why the sun's disk is sometimes found on statuettes of ichneumons.
Although ichneumons are very realistically depicted in papyrus thickets in the wall paintings in tombs of the Old Kingdom, in some tombs of the New Kingdom, for example that of Menna in Thebes, realism has lost its importance and they are depicted schematically. Most statues of ichneumons that have survived date to the Late Period or the Ptolemaic Period. It is then very difficult to differentiate it from a shrew.