Conservation Status– Least concern
The meerkat is a member of the mongoose family. They have a small round body measuring about 42-60cms. Of this 17-25cms is the tail which is long and small. At the tip it is black. The average weight for a meerkat is 720-730 grams with females being slightly smaller than females.
The meerkats body is fawn or brown in colour. On the underside they have no fur which means their black skin shows through. Across they have fur which is darker than the rest in bands reaching from one side to another. These continue down the entire back.
Meerkats can live for up to 7 years in the wild. In captivity meerkats have achieved ages of 13 to 14.
The meerkat is an omnivore. The primary portion of their diet is insects. They will feed on lizards, scorpions, snakes, small mammals, plants, fruits and fungi. Occasionally they will take small birds.
Meerkats range across Namibia, Angola, Botswana and South Africa. In this area the temperature ranges from 43oC to 18oC. Meerkats come from open grasslands which are dry. These areas feature shrubs and short grasses.
Meerkats will breed throughout the entire year. The male meerkat will groom the female until she submits and mating begins. After 11 weeks 3-4 pups are produced, they are born with closed eyes and ears. They spend the start of their life in the burrow.
After three weeks the pups will begin to venture out of their burrow. Some of the meerkats in the group will sit with the babies while the other adults go foraging. A week after emerging they will go on their first hunt with the adults. At 11/2 to 2 months they are weaned off milk and by the time they are 1 year old they will be sexually mature.
Only the dominant female will mate. She kills any other females babies who are born into the group.
In the morning meerkats will point their bellies towards the sun to warm up after the cold desert nights. After this they will set off to go foraging as a mob. This mob may be made up of 30 individuals or more.
The rest of the meerkat mob will search for food while one stands in a high up place watching out for predators. This meerkat is known as the sentry. Predators of the meerkat include eagles, cobras and jackals. When the sentry spots a predator it will emit a whistle or hiss.
The meerkats will dig in the sand to find food. Their ears close over while they do this and their eyes have a special membrane to protect them. Meerkats have a natural immunity to snakes, scorpions and millipedes. Scorpions are one of their favourite foods.
A meerkat mob will band together if there is a threat to their burrow. Sometime cobras will attack and the mob can attack and kill this predator.
Yellow mongoose and ground squirrels have been known to inhabit the same burrows as meerkats as they are not competing for the same foods.
Meerkats have featured in many TV shows and movies making them very popular. These include meerkat manor, the lion king and Life of Pi.
Adelaide Zoo has a white meerkat. She is not an albino but has just lost the colouring in her skin.