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Meerkat

Appearance

The meerkat is a member of the mongoose family. They have a small round body measuring about 42-60cms (16.5-23.6in). Of this 17-25cms (6.7-9.8in) is the tail which is long and thin. At the tip it is black. The average weight for a meerkat is 720-730g (25.4-25.8oz) with females being slightly smaller than males.

The meerkats body is fawn or brown in colour. On the underside they have no fur which means their black skin shows through. Across the back they have fur which is darker than the rest in bands reaching from one side to another. These continue down the entire back.

Diet

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 hunt down prey underground as they have a great sense of smell.

They are capable of eating venomous snakes and scorpions as they have a level of immunity to their venom.

meerkat

Scientific Name

Suricata suritcatta

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Weight

720-730g

(25.4-25.8oz)

Length

42-60cm (16.5-23.6in)

Lifespan

Wild 7 years

Captive 15 years

Diet

Omnivorous

Range

Meerkats range across Namibia, Angola, Botswana and South Africa. In this area the temperature ranges from 43oC to 18oC. 

Habitat

Meerkats come from open grasslands which are dry. These areas feature shrubs and short grasses.

Reproduction

Meerkats will breed throughout the entire year though typically pups are born when food is at its most abundant from November to March. The male meerkat will groom the female until she submits and mating begins.

After 11 weeks an average of 3-4 pups are produced though there may be up to 8 in a single litter. 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.

Mum will teach them to hunt including biting the stinger off scorpions so they can practice hunting these.

At 1 1/2 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.

meerkat

Behaviour

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.

Meerkats live in a burrow dug in to the ground. Often they occupy burrows which have already been dug by another species. These underground chambers maintain a relatively constant temperature which helps them to survive in the harsh heat of the desert. Each burrow may have as many as 15 entry or exit points.

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 meerkat 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.

Quick facts

Meerkats have featured in many TV shows and movies making them very popular. These include meerkat manor, the lion king, Life of Pi and more recently on adverts for insurance firm compare the market.

Adelaide Zoo in South Australia has a white meerkat. She is not an albino but has just lost the colouring in her skin.

Photo Credits

Copyright. The Animal Facts

References

Jordan, N.R. & Do Linh San, E. 2015. Suricata suricatta. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T41624A45209377. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T41624A45209377.en. Downloaded on 18 May 2020.

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