These adorable mammals are native to southern Africa, thriving in regions like the Kalahari Desert. Their tight-knit social structures and quirky habits are definitely interesting. Let’s take a look at some fun facts about these social little beasts, scientifically known as Suricata suricatta.
No Solo Meerkats
Meerkats live in groups called mobs. A meerkat mob’s average size is around 15, but can have up to 40 individuals. It may consist of up to three families living together. If separated from its group, a meerkat may not be able to re-integrate back into the mob, and may have to live the rest of its life alone.
“Meerkat” Is Derived From Dutch and Means “Lake Cat.”
However, meerkats are not related to cats. Meerkats are from the mongoose family.
Disney’s Timon Was Modeled off a Meerkat at the San Diego Zoo
The animator's model for the portrayal of Timon, a meerkat in The Lion King, was a meerkat at the San Diego Zoo.
Meerkats Have Elaborate Burrows With Bedrooms and Bathrooms
Meerkats live in elaborate underground burrow systems with tunnels and chambers at different levels. Some of these tunnels may be 6.5 feet deep in the ground. Interestingly, the alpha pair often has a special, more secluded chamber for mating.
Dominant Meerkats Prevent Others From Mating
Meerkats are matriarchal groups, and the alpha female may forcibly prevent other females from mating, helping to ensure that she is the primary reproducer in the group. If subordinate females in a meerkat group give birth, the dominant female may kill their pups. This behavior is believed to be a strategy to conserve resources for the dominant pair's offspring.
Meerkats Eat Scorpions for Lunch
To eat scorpions, meerkats have been observed engaging in a unique form of insect warfare. They’ll grab the scorpion and quickly bite off the tail. Then, to remove leftover venom in the exoskeleton, the meerkat will rub the scorpion on the ground and then munch them down without harm.
Grooming Rituals Help Them Survive
Meerkats spend hours playing together and grooming one another. This bonding time not only helps to keep their fur clean but also reinforces the social ties in the group. These bonds are crucial since they rely on the entire group working together to raise young and ward off predators.
Meerkats Have a Peculiar Behavior Known as “Self-Anointing.”
When they encounter a new scent, they may rub their own fur with the scent, possibly to camouflage themselves from predators or communicate within the group.
Meerkats Prefer Insects, but They Have a Varied Diet
Meerkats are great diggers with a powerful sense of smell. This allows them to hunt for their favorite foods – insects. They won’t stop at eating insects, though. Their diet may include lizards and snakes, fruits, small mammals, and even bird eggs.
Meerkats Need to Eat Their Body Weight in Food Each Day
With all of their digging and foraging, these little creatures burn a lot of energy. To replace it, they need to eat their body weight in food each day. Meerkats weigh around 2 pounds – that’s a lot of beetles, bugs, and roots to eat!
Able to Survive Without Drinking Water
Meerkats can get all the moisture they need from their diet. They dig up roots and tubers and find fruits to eat that give them moisture.
Mom Teaches Baby Meerkats to Hunt
A meerkat mother will bring home scorpions with their tails bitten off to teach the young meerkats how to hunt them without getting hurt. Adult meerkats have some immunity to scorpion stings, but a scorpion’s pincers can still do plenty of damage, so the pups have to learn to deal carefully with their dangerous food.
Eyes Adapted for the Desert
Dark patches around meerkats' eyes help reduce the sun’s glare. They also have long, horizontal pupils, which give them a wide range of vision, helping them keep watch in the vast desert plains where they live.
Eyes Protected From Dirt
Meerkats are adapted for digging and have a membrane that can cover their eyes to protect them while burrowing.
It’s an Air Raid! Meerkats Have Complex Communication
If a predator is spotted, a meerkat on sentinel duty will sound the alarm. This guard alerts the other meerkats with a bark or whistle. There are different calls for land predators and for those coming from the air.
They Know Thousands of Places to Hide
When meerkats hear the alarm, they usually run for their nearest bolthole. These are tunnels with wider openings that can hold a crowd of meerkats. Meerkats memorize the locations of thousands of these holes in their territory so they can run to the closest one at a moment's notice.
My, What a Cozy Burrow…We’ll Take It!
Although they’re excellent diggers, meerkats often live in burrows dug by other wildlife, such as ground squirrels.
Meerkats Don't Make Good Pets.
They may be absolutely adorable, but meerkats aren't good pets. They have complex dietary and social needs that are hard to meet in captivity, and they use smelly scent markings all over their territory. The RSPCA reports that Meerkats kept as pets are likely to develop health and behavior problems and potentially become aggressive.
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