Lifestyle and Lifespan
Slender build with long thin legs, 4 toes with long claws; thin, pointed tail; pointed face with small crescent-shaped ears. Long, soft coat grizzled gray or tan with buff to yellowish underparts. Head is almost white. Black eye patches, ears, feet, and tail tip and dark transverse banding on back. Anal scent glands are present. Females have six mammae.
They're the only member of the mongoose family that doesn't have a bushy tail.
Many adaptations help meerkats live in their dry, dusty environment. Dark patches around their eyes help cut down on the sun's glare. Long, horizontal pupils give them a wide range of vision for seeing predators. Meerkats have thin fur and dark skin on their stomachs that helps them control body temperature. They can lie on their backs and get quickly warmed by the sun or lie stomach down on a cool rock in the heat of midday. Meerkats use their phenomenal sense of smell to locate concealed prey, then dig it out with their long-clawed forefeet. The pointed snout is thrust into the narrow trenches it excavates to grasp beetle larvae and the like. They have sharp canines and broad molar teeth with sharp cusps for their insect diet. They are immune to scorpion venom and some snake venom. Additionally, they have a special membrane that can cover the eye to protect it while burrowing, and ears that close to keep out the sand.
Open, arid savannah and plains, with firm to hard soil
This species is widespread in the western parts of southern Africa, including western and southern Namibia, southwestern Botswana, and north and west South Africa, with a very small intrusion into extreme southwestern Angola. Densities can fluctuate greatly across this range, and are influenced by rainfall and predation.
insects, spiders, snails, rodents, birds, eggs, lizards, and scorpions
Meerkats are an important food source for larger predators. They may also help to suppress the growth of local insect populations.
In the morning, meerkats carefully emerge from their burrow and spend a little time sunbathing and grooming. Once warmed up and ready to go, the meerkats forage for most of the day, sometimes stopping in the shade or a burrow during the hottest hours. Then they return to the main burrow to rest for the night.
Communal living helps meerkats to better survive. During the day, adults take turns as the lookout or sentry, so others can forage without worry. The sentry climbs atop a high rock, termite mound, or bush and stands upright on two legs. He or she will announce the beginning of their guard duty with a specialized call. If a predator is spotted, the sentry will sound the alarm with a bark or whistle. If the sentry sounds the alarm for a predator, the meerkats will run for the nearest hole, called a bolt hole. These are special tunnels with wider openings designed to hold a crowd of meerkats at once. Meerkats memorize the locations of thousands of bolt holes within their territory and are able to run to the closest one at a moment's notice. Additionally, a meerkat mob sometimes stirs up dust to create a cover, or they may stand together to look larger, acting fierce to scare off the predator.
Meerkats live in large groups called gangs or mobs. The average meerkat mob contains around 10-15 individuals, but can have up to 30 individuals, consisting of up to 3 family units. Meerkats exhibit sentinel behavior, where one member of the group watches for predators, acting as the lookout. Different members of the group rotate throughout the day, taking turns as sentinel. Members of mobs seem amicable with each other and ferociously hostile to other packs. Meerkats have a matriarchal society. Adult males will usually leave the pack to join another group upon reaching sexual maturity. Females usually stay in their natal group for their entire lives.
Reproduction is not monopolized by an alpha pair, and each family unit usually has a breeding pair. Nonbreeding meekats help out with the raising of the young. Meerkats share the duty of raising young and teaching them how to hide, hunt, clean, and defend their territory. The mother needs to spend time foraging to supply her pups with milk, so other females and males stay behind to care for and protect her young. The mob may sometimes decide to move to a different burrow, and these "babysitters" help transport the pups, carrying them by the scruff of the neck. The pups spend most of their time playing. The more babysitters there are, the greater the survival rate for the pups.
Average litter size is 3-4 pups, born with eyes and ears closed, and unable to urinate or defecate without stimulation from the mother. Ears open at about 10 days of age, and eyes open at 10-14 days. Young is weened around 7 to 9 weeks of age.
With species widespread throughout southern Africa, and no major threats, Meerkats are listed as Least Concern.
A meerkat is not a cat, but is a suricate, a member of the mongoose family. The name meerkat is the general Afrikaans term for mongoose.
Meerkats have a variety of different calls consisting of: murmuring (any activity); growling and spitting (offensive threat); clucking (scolding); peeping (guard's assurance that he's on duty); a clear drawn-out call (avian predators);waauk-waauk, a gruff warning call (ground predators); alarm bark(defiance); and a soft wurruck-wurruck (contentment).
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