14 Meerkat Facts That Will Amaze Your Kids
The Meerkat is a small-sized member of the mongoose family. They have a broad head with huge eyes and a characteristic long snout. They are mostly found in South Africa.
Meerkats are popularly depicted as standing upright and looking over their surroundings. However, they are highly social and usually seen in packs. As part of a pack, they look out for predators, hunt for food, and even help raise babies together.
You might already be familiar with a Meerkat called Timon from the Lion King! Let us now look at some more amazing facts about Meerkats.
Basic Meerkat Facts
Meerkats are commonly known as suricates, which means ‘rock cats’. They are cat-like carnivorous mammals, classified under the family Herpestidae. They are part of the genus Suricata, and their Latin name is Suricata suricatta. There are three recognized subspecies: S. s. suricatta, S. s. majoriae, and S. s. iona.
On average, they have a body length of around 9 to 14 inches. They also sport a roughly 7 inches long tail! They typically weigh somewhere between 1.5 and 2 pounds.
Meerkats are mostly seen in arid and stony areas, such as deserts. But, they are also common in savannahs, dry rivers, and even open plains! But, they stay away from actual desert regions, mountains, and forests.
Instead, they prefer regions with shrubbery, woody vegetation, and low rainfall amounts. Their range stretches from southwestern Botswana to southwestern Namibia. They are also found in some parts of northern and western Africa.
Meerkats mainly feed on insects and are classified as insectivores. Their diet consists of beetles and moths. But they are also opportunistic carnivores. Meerkats have been known to feed on caterpillars, scorpions, small amphibians, and reptiles.
Some meerkats also eat small birds and their eggs! However, only a tiny portion of their diet is seeds and plants due to limited vegetation in their habitats. In the wild, Meerkats live for about 5 to 15 years. But they have been known to survive up to 20 years in captivity!
14 Fun and Interesting Meerkat Facts
- Meerkats are usually found in packs ranging from 2 to 30 members. These packs have almost equal numbers of males and females. They are also called gangs or mobs. A single pair of Meerkats lead the mobs. The other members are usually children or siblings of this dominant couple. The packs are spread over an area of 2 to 6 square miles.
- Meerkats have several adaptations for making burrows. Their foreclaws are curved and sharp and are very effective at digging. Their eyes have a special membrane that prevents dirt from getting in. Their ears can also be closed to shield them from debris while digging. They can also regulate their body temperature according to the desert heat, although the temperatures inside the burrows are more habitable.
- Meerkat burrows are typically 16 feet in diameter and have 12 to 15 opening holes. They are made up of two or three tunnels and are about 5 feet deep. Meerkats also dig safe places called boltholes in their burrows! These are used for making a quick escape in case of predator attacks.
- And while Meerkats can dig their own burrows, they usually share them with other animals. This saves everyone the time and effort to create different shelters. Meerkats may also live alongside Cape ground squirrels and yellow mongooses. African pygmy mice, Highveld gerbils, and white-tailed rats sometimes share burrows with Meerkats.
- Meerkats are also specially adapted to feeding in the desert environment. They fulfill their water needs from the insects they eat. Sometimes, they may even dig out plant roots and underground stems for some extra hydration! They can spend up to 8 hours collecting food, going as far as 16 feet from the rest of the pack. They hunt using their sense of smell and can even find prey hidden in rock crevices or under the ground!
- Meerkats are highly vigilant animals. They regularly stand up on their hind legs, using their tails for balance. They often find a high point to scan their surroundings and check for predators. Some Meerkats play the role of being a sentry and lookout for danger while the rest of the mob is busy hunting.
- Meerkats use a variety of voices to signal danger. Researchers recorded at least 12 different calls, including a warning bark for alerting about predators. Meerkats also use calls while digging and caring for their pups. Based on the pitch and loudness, they can also understand the urgency of a situation from these calls.
- When alerted to predators, Meerkats will usually go back to hide in their burrows. The sentries will usually stick their heads out of the burrows to see if it is safe to return. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be violent! Sometimes, the entire mob will huddle together and raise their tails and hair. This makes them appear like a single large animal!
- Meerkats are immune to the venom of many predators. Since they belong to the mongoose family, they can withstand feeding on many species of snakes and scorpions. But Meerkats also have a unique technique for handling scorpions. When a scorpion attacks, Meerkats will often bite off the stinger and remove it, preventing the scorpion from injecting venom. While feeding, they will rub scorpions against the sand to get rid of the poison on their body.
- Meerkats are highly social animals and have a hierarchy. Within a pack, Meerkats are divided into breeders and helpers. The dominant females, known as the breeders, are responsible for producing babies. Sometimes, low-ranking members will even kill the children of dominant members to ensure their own kids survive!
- Meerkats have excellent eyesight! Their eye sockets cover almost 20% of their skulls. They can spot predators and prey from miles away. Meerkats have horizontal pupils, allowing them to have a wide range of vision for surveying their environment. They also have dark patches around their eyes. These patches absorb light and reduce glare on the Meerkat’s eyes in the harsh desert habitat.
- Baby Meerkats are born after only 60 to 70 days of gestation. They usually are part of a litter of three or four pups, but the number can go up to eight. They weigh only 100 grams at birth! Meerkat pups are deaf, blind, and have nearly hairless bodies when they are born.
- Meerkats teach their young how to hunt and forage food. When they’re young, the pups are cared for by the helpers of the pack. They make calls inside the burrows when they want to be fed. The pups only come out of the burrows after 16 days. By 26 days, the pups start observing the adults while foraging. Sometimes, the adults teach them by carrying prey around in their mouths, allowing the pups to ‘hunt’! The baby Meerkats master hunting around 12 weeks of age.
- Meerkats are not suitable pets. Despite how tame and cute they appear, it is not realistic to keep them as pets. They are known to get aggressive. They also have a strong, foul smell! On top of that, Meerkats can act as carriers for diseases, such as rabies and Lyme disease. Despite all this, Meerkats are still domesticated in some parts of South Africa. They are used for getting rid of rodents and insects on farmlands.
Thus as we’ve seen, Meerkats are small mammals belonging to the mongoose family. They are highly social animals and live in packs. They are also brilliant and divide jobs between members of the group. In addition, they have many adaptations which allow them to hunt and survive in mostly dry regions in South Africa. All in all, the cute Meerkats are fascinating animals!