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Cool Facts About Meerkats

Meerkats are a species of Mongoose

    Dr. Becker:  Meerkats are social, captivating little mammals that live in the deserts of Botswana and Namibia, in southwestern Angola and in South Africa. Part of their tremendous appeal is the way they stand upright. Meerkats have an acute sense of smell, eyesight and hearing.

    Meerkats grow to about 12 inches in length, and about 2 pounds. Females are slightly bigger than males. They live about 10 years in the wild and up to 13 years in captivity. Meerkats are not an endangered species.

    They dine primarily on insects, but they’re also known to eat plants, eggs, scorpions and small reptiles. Thanks to their sharp sense of smell and excavation skills, they are able to find a meal even when it’s hiding underground.

    Mom meerkats must teach their youngsters how to eat. They bring home live insects, lizards and even scorpions so the babies can learn how to kill them without getting hurt. Adult meerkats can kill and eat poisonous snakes and scorpions without being hurt because they’ve become immune to the venom.
    Meerkats get all the water they need from their diet — primarily moisture-dense roots and fruits.

    Meerkats live in underground burrows in groups of two or three families, called mobs. Mobs get up early to sunbathe outside their burrows, then spend the rest of the day hunting. They cover a territory of about four square miles and alternate sections to hunt in each day.

    The adults take turns being lookouts for predators while everyone else forages for food. The lookout takes a position on a high rock or bush. As long as no danger is spotted, the lookout makes a constant low peeping sound called the "watchman’s song." If a predator comes into view, he lets out a bark or whistle, which sends all the rest of the meerkats into hiding.

    Since meerkats live in hot, dusty environments, nature has designed them to adapt to their natural habitat. They have excellent peripheral vision, and the dark patches around their eyes function as sunglasses – cutting glare and enabling them to see long distances. Meerkats have a special membrane that protects their eyes when they burrow, and their ears can close as protection against sand and dirt.

    Their dark skin and thin fur on their tummies help meerkats control their body temperature. If they lie on their backs, the sun quickly warms them up. If they lie on their bellies on a cool rock, they can lower their body temperature.

    Female meerkats have multiple litters of 2 to 5 pups each year. Meerkat pups are born hairless, with their eyes and ears shut. The eyes open in about 2 weeks, the babies start eating solid food at about 3 weeks, and they venture out of the den when they’re about a month old.

    Reproduction is left primarily to the dominant female and male in a mob, but all the adults in the group take turns with babysitting chores. Meerkat moms can nurse their young while standing upright.

    These little guys learn the locations of literally thousands of escape holes within their territory so they can quickly scoot into the one closest to them to escape a predator. Meerkat youngsters are so fearful of predatory birds that a plane flying overhead can send them diving for cover.

    July 1, 2013 Posted by | animal behavior, Animal or Pet Related Stories, Animal Related Education, animals, Just One More Pet, Wild Animals | , , | 2 Comments