In the arid plains of southern Africa lives an interesting animal called a meerkat or suricate. With great vision and communication skills, it warns its pack when a predator approaches. Then, it hides in burrows it borrowed from other animals. The meerkat is simply unique.
Meerkats are small mongooses that are well-known for their remarkable teamwork. These cute animals prove that cooperation and mutual care are excellent survival strategies in the animal kingdom. If you want to learn more about them, let’s discover some marvelous facts about meerkats!
Fun Meerkat Facts That Will Surprise Your Loved Ones
If you’ve watched the film The Lion King, you may remember the dynamic duo of Timon and Pumbaa. Many people are confused as to what kind of animal Timon is, but he’s a meerkat! If you have some loved ones who are big fans of The Lion King or love all things related to animals, they may love these exciting facts!
- Meerkats Have Impressively Complex Social Lives
Courtesy of Buschman
Many animals live in groups for protection and support, but meerkats have some of the most sophisticated social lives. These small mammals are highly social, as they live in packs or mobs of as many as 30 individuals. There are roughly equal numbers of males and females in a pack.
Meerkats have a social hierarchy; typically, older individuals take the lead. The leaders are the ones that breed, while the other members help raise the babies (called pups).
The packs live in rock crevices across a large area. They may also migrate if they can’t find enough food or their territory is flooded.
- Meerkats Work for Their Communities
Courtesy of Expert Africa
Each member of a meerkat pack looks out for the others. They help each other by collecting food, watching out for predators, and even babysitting the pups. These animals take turns when doing their jobs, as their roles aren’t too strictly defined.
The helpers usually work more than the leaders, especially when there’s plenty of food. However, the leaders can also work on taking care of the pups and looking out for approaching danger.
- Meerkats Are Chatty Animals
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Having large communities that help each other would be challenging if meerkats couldn’t communicate well. Fortunately, they do! They are chatty animals that can make a wide variety of sounds to talk to their pack members.
Impressively, meerkats can provide context to their calls by repeating sounds or mixing them with other sounds.
One study found that meerkats have around 12 call combinations they can use in various situations. These include warning others against approaching predators, digging, huddling together, taking care of pups, and displaying aggression. When a meerkat smells or sees the droppings of a predator or an unfamiliar meerkat, these animals can also recruit others to investigate. How impressive is that?
Another interesting fact to note is that meerkats can voice out where a predator is, and the others will respond differently, depending on the context. For example, if one meerkat spots a predator on the ground, the pack members will scan their surroundings. On the other hand, if an individual calls about a predator in the air, the others will crouch down.
- Meerkats Are Always on the Lookout for Predators
Courtesy of Adrian Vieriu
Meerkats are vigilant creatures, and they have to be — they have many predators waiting to attack. Their natural predators include foxes, jackals, eagles, and goshawks.
Because of this, it’s crucial for at least one individual in the pack to be on the lookout. When it spots a predator, it’ll let out loud calls to alert the others. Then, the meerkats will crouch down or run to their burrows for safety. Their brown coloration with light and dark bands on the back helps them blend in with their surroundings.
Meerkats have good vision, and they can detect flying raptors more than 1,000 feet (304.8 km) away. Some of them may even hide when they see airplanes! How neat is this fact about meerkats?
- Meerkats Live in Burrows Made by Other Animals
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Hiding from birds of prey is easy when you live underground — and meerkats know this all too well. These animals nest in burrows below the ground, and they can have as many as 15 separate entranceways. They also have separate “rooms” for sleeping and going to the potty.
Meerkats have sharp, curved claws built for digging. They can even close their crescent-shaped ears to prevent dirt from entering. However, why waste energy building a house when other animals have already built one for you?
Meerkats often just look for abandoned burrows from other animals like ground squirrels, then they’ll move in and modify the place. Meerkat burrows can reach up to eight feet (2.4 m) deep. They also migrate to other locations every few months to search for food and avoid predators that may have spotted their burrows.
- Meerkats Have Venom Resistance
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Aside from foxes, jackals, and birds of prey, meerkats also have to deal with other dangerous animals like scorpions and venomous snakes. Fortunately, like many mongoose species, meerkats are resistant to venom. Now, that’s a cool meerkat fact!
Meerkats can eat scorpions and be fine even if they get stung. Sure, they become drowsy for a while, but they’re largely immune to the venom that can send a grown man to the hospital. How amazing is that?
- Meerkats Mark Their Territory with Odor-Producing Bacteria
Courtesy of MediaPost
Many animals mark their territories using scent glands. From cats and dogs to lions and bears, these creatures let others know that the place is theirs. Meerkats also do this, but their methods are more complex.
Meerkats have scent pouches under their tails, and they use the secretions to form a “paste.” Then, they apply the paste to rocks, plants, and burrows to mark their territory. Researchers found that the scents from these secretions come from bacteria. Isn’t that weirdly amusing?
- Meerkats Often Cuddle Up When They Sleep
Courtesy of No-longer-here
Although meerkats can be fierce when it comes to eating bugs and defending their territory, they also have a cute side. These small mammals often bundle up in their sleeping chambers for warmth when the weather is cool. However, in the summer, they may spread out a bit.
- Meerkats Are Well-Adapted to Living in Hot Climates
Courtesy of San Diego Zoo
Meerkats can live in hot and dry areas because their bodies are well-adapted to these ranges. Their metabolism is slower than many other carnivores, helping them survive on low amounts of food and water. This also helps lower their body heat. In the winter, on the other hand, meerkats sunbathe to keep themselves warm.
Frequently Asked Questions on Meerkats
What do meerkats eat?
Like Timon from The Lion King, meerkats are mainly insectivores. They mostly eat insects like beetles and caterpillars and hunt by scent. However, they may occasionally snack on eggs, scorpions, small amphibians, lizards, fruits, and vegetables. Because their environment is so dry, they also dig out plant roots and tubers to hydrate themselves.
If you want to see these animals eating in action, check out this interesting video!
Where do meerkats live?
Meerkats live in the deserts and grasslands of southern Africa. Their ranges include western and southern Namibia, southwestern Botswana, and northern and western South Africa. They prefer open plains where the trees are few and the grass is short. These environments help them detect predators more easily with their good eyesight.
How big is a meerkat?
Meerkats are small animals — their head-and-body length typically ranges from 9.4 to 13.8 inches (24–35 cm) long. They only weigh around 1.4 to 2.1 pounds (0.62–0.97 kg).