Facts About Meerkats

People who see meerkats for the very first time are absolutely delighted at the appearance and behavior of these small mammals. They sit and stand pretty much like people do and they would look at you with such interest and intelligence in their eyes that it seems they would understand anything you tell them.

Member of the Mongoose family

Meerkats are members of the mongoose family and are native to the Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa. When standing upright, they are about a foot tall. Their tail is also quite long and measures about a third of their body length. The tail helps them balance when they stand upright, which they like to do a lot.

Physical appearance

The back of a meerkat is typically covered with light brown-colored fur with a stripe pattern down the middle. This stripe pattern is unique to each meerkat, pretty much like a thumbprint is unique to each human. The underside of a meerkat doesn’t have a lot of fur, so you can easily see the dark-colored skin underneath. More than just a distinguishing physical characteristic, this dark skin is also very useful for absorbing heat in the morning, which is essential for keeping the animal warm.

meerkat habitat map
meerkat habitat map

The map above shows you where you can find meerkats, which is in the Kalahari Desert. A newborn meerkat only weighs about an ounce. Meerkats dig burrows that can be as long a 5 meters or about 16 feet deep. A meerkat has an excellent eyesight and can spot an eagle up to 300 meters away or about a 1,000 feet away.

Cute but dangerous too

Weighing only about 2 pounds, a meerkat do look quite cute and adorable but you should also know that they also have inch-long, non-retractable claws on each of the four toes of their feet. They use these long sharp claws to dig burrows in the ground where they live. They also use these claws to dig in the sand in order to hunt food.

Their diet

The favorite cuisine of a meerkat includes small desert insects like spiders, beetles, centipedes, millipedes and crickets. Meerkats particularly like eating scorpions, so it is a good thing that they are immune to scorpion venom. They also eat roots, tubers, eggs and practically any other edible item that they can find underneath the desert sand.

They move around

Because of the nature of their diet, it is inevitable that the food will eventually run out in their territory. This is why meerkats travel to different locations several times a year. They live in and travel in groups of 10-30 members, which is collectively called a gang or a mob.

An organized bunch

Traveling in groups help keep meerkats protected. In fact, there is always at least one member of the gang who is assigned to stand guard while the rest are hunting for food or playing. When this guard senses impending danger, he alerts the rest of the gang so they can jump into their burrows and hide until the danger has passed. This security system is quite efficient but it doesn’t always ensure complete safety from fierce predators like jackals and eagles.

Life cycle of meerkats

The breeding period of a meerkat is between October and April, during which most of the mating is done by the alpha male and female of the gang. The gestation period lasts for 10 weeks, after which a litter of 3-4 pups is born. The babies stay in the burrow until they are 21 days old, when their eyes and ears have already opened. Once they come out, other members of the gang can look after them while their mother forages for food. Meerkats have a lifespan of about 10-12 years.

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