Meerkats are cute little creatures that belong to the mongoose family. These animals are found in the deserts and grasslands of Africa, including southwestern Botswana, western and southern Namibia, and north and west South Africa. They can also be found in the extreme southwestern areas of Angola and in the lowlands of Lesotho.
Eagles, hawks, and falcons hunt meerkats, but they are not endangered. Meerkats live up to about 10 to 14 years or more. They suffer from poor vision at short range though they have excellent long-range eyesight.
These animals exhibit altruistic behavior when living in colonies or groups of about 25. One of the meerkats from the colony stands guard as a designated sentry while the others forage. When a colony gets overcrowded the meerkats typically disperse and form smaller groups to ensure that there will be enough food for all.
Meerkats mainly eat insects, grubs, and scorpions. They are immune to the dangerous venom of scorpions that would usually harm a person.
Meerkats are small animals, measuring 25 to 30 centimeters (9.8 to 11.8 inches) from head to rump. Their tails add another 19 to 24 centimeters (7.5 to 9.5 inches) to their length; females slightly larger than males.
Here are some interesting facts about them:
1. The tail of a meerkat can be seven to ten inches long, which is usually yellow in color with a black tip. Its tail is not bushy like the tail of mongoose rather it is slim. When excited, they hold their tail high and vertical.
2. They recognize each other’s voices. Just as humans can identify our friends’ and family’s voices over the phone, a 2011 study showed that meerkats can distinguish between the calls of different members of their clan. Scientists played a recording of the same meerkat from hidden speakers on opposite sides of test animals.
According to WIRED, “The situation was similar to hearing a friend shout from the kitchen, then from the second-floor bathroom just a second later.” Indicating that they recognized this as an impossible situation, the test meerkats showed “a prolonged vigilance, paying much closer attention than they did to other recorded calls. The situation didn’t compute.”
3. Meerkats are specially adapted to living in the harsh desert environment. Dark patches around their eyes help them be effective lookouts by reducing the glare of the sun, much like a baseball player who paints dark lines beneath his eyes. Their eyes also allow them to take in a wide angle view of the scene. This helps prevent predators from gaining an advantage by sneaking up.
4. They are highly social animals and they like to play or groom each other. Besides fun time, each member of the mob has its own duty which benefits the whole group.
5. Meerkats are territorial animals. The average size of their territory is 4 square miles. They dig holes throughout the whole territory and use them as shelters in the case of danger.
6. Meerkats mate during the rainy season and have few litters each year. Female gives birth to 2-5 pups. They are hairless, blind and their ears are closed. Pups stay in the burrow with their mother couple of weeks, until they become ready to eat the solid food.
7. Just like human warriors fought before modern technology when two groups of meerkats go to war over territory, they will line up and charge each other.
8. A meerkat is believed to be a ’sun angel’ in the Zimbabwe and Zambian regions of Africa. It is said that the ‘sun angels’ are sent by the gods to protect villages.
9. Meerkats have excellent eyesight, they can spot predators in the air from more than 300 m away. They have great peripheral vision and the dark patches around their eyes cut glare from the hot desert surface.