Fascinating Meerkat Facts

  • The meerkat, also called a suricate, is a mammal in the mongoose family and is the only member of the mongoose family that doesn’t have a bushy tail.
  • Meerkats live in areas of clumpy grassland and deserts in the southern area of the African continent – including the Namib Desert in Namibia, the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and southwestern Angola, and in South Africa.
  • A family group of meerkats can be called a’mob’, ‘gang’ or ‘clan’.
  • A group usually contains around 20 meerkats, but some super-families have 50 or more members.
  • They are known to work and hunt together in a collaborative effort that involves designated lookouts who rotate regularly and rely on a series of distinct calls to communicate with other members when there is a danger.
  • Meerkat gangs are structured around an alpha couple to whom most of the other members are somehow related.
  • The life span of a meerkat is roughly up to 10 years in the wild and up to 14 years in captivity.
  • Meerkats are small animals, measuring 25 to 30cm from head to rump. Their tails add another 19 to 24cm to their length.
  • Their weight varies from 620 to 1,000 grams.
  • For meerkats, there isn’t just safety in numbers, but there’s also companionship.
  • Meerkat groups spend a lot of their time grooming and playing together to keep the family unit tight.
  • While most of the gang is out foraging and hunting for food, or standing guard, one male or female, adolescent or young adult stays behind in the burrow to “babysit” any pups.
  • Back at the burrow, several babysitters stay behind to watch over new-born pups.
  • The meerkat uses its tail to balance when standing upright. They often stand up in the morning to absorb heat on their bellies after a long, cold, desert night.
  • Dark patches around their eyes act to cut down on the sun’s glare and long, horizontal pupils give meerkats a wide range of vision.
  • They can spot predators in the air from more than 300m away.
  • Meerkats can close their ears and membrane covers protect their eyes while they dig.
  • Eating both plants and animals, meerkats are omnivores.
  • Meerkats mainly eat insects but also like eating lizards, snakes, scorpions, spiders, plants, eggs, small mammals, centipedes, and fungi.
  • Females can give birth to 8 babies at a time, but it is more common for meerkat mothers to have 2 to 4 offspring at a time.
  • The babies, called pups, are born underground, where they are safe from predators.
  • Pups are hairless, blind and their ears are closed.
  • Meerkats are diurnal, meaning that once the sun is up, they carefully emerge from their burrow and spend some time sunbathing and grooming.
  • There are few animals on Earth who work as well together as meerkats.
  • Meerkats are very good at digging. They have long, strong, curved claws that they use for digging burrows.
  • Meerkats dig safe places called bolt holes throughout their foraging area where they can hide in an emergency.
  • Within their territory, the clan usually has up to 5 different burrows that they sleep in at night. The burrows have multiple entrances and can be between 2 – 5m deep.
  • A clan of meerkats will always have one “sentry” on guard to watch out for predators while the others forage for food.
  • If the meerkat on guard spots danger, it barks loudly or whistles in one of six different ways.
  • For example, if the threat is of low, medium, or high urgency and if the predator is in the air or on the ground.
  • If caught in the open by a predator, a meerkat will try to look fierce, lying on its back and showing its teeth and claws.
  • Although they are social and even affectionate within their clan, meerkats are highly territorial and will engage in violent, all-out turf wars with neighboring gangs.
  • Meerkat’s natural predators include eagles, hawks, jackals, and snakes.
  • Able to survive without drinking water, meerkats get the moisture they need from eating roots and tubers, as well as fruit.
  • When two groups of meerkats go to war over territory, they will line up and charge each other, much like human warriors did before modern technology.
  • Meerkats, being wild animals, make poor pets. They can be aggressive, especially toward guests, and may bite. They will scent- mark their owner and the house as a territory sign.
  • Meerkat wars can result in many deaths, so the animals try to avoid such conflicts by employing intimidation tactics, according to some studies done by scientists.
  • They play an important part in maintaining ecological harmony in the desert as they curb pest infestation by eating insects.
  • Meerkats know to keep watch for birds of prey, with a meerkat spotting a bird from more than 300 meters away.

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