Most of you probably know the meerkat as Hakuna-Matata-finding Timon in the Lion King. The meerkat is a member of the mongoose family that spends it’s time living in underground burrows with its “mob.” The mob can consist of up to forty related or unrelated meerkats living in an intricate burrow system with separate compartments for sleeping.
Mobs tend to keep to their own territories, but if two groups interact, they will fight, even to the death, to defend their homes. In these “wars,” all adult meerkats of the mob line up in a row and charge their opponent.
Meerkats work together with their own mob every day. They work to hunt animals, like venomous snakes, that they would be unable to kill on their own. They watch out for predators together too – while the group hunts, one meerkat will always stand guard, singing a song of clicks and peeping, to tell the group that the area is safe. If a predator is spotted, all meerkats run to a nearby bolt hole – an entrance to their tunnels that is large enough to allow a group of meerkats to enter at once. They may kick up dust as they run to camouflage themselves or run as a group to appear larger.
Meerkats live in Southern Africa’s Kalahari Desert, so they have several adaptations to their environment. They have dark patches around their eyes to protect from the sun’s glare and a special membrane over their eyes that protects them while digging. Their pupils are horizontal, rather than circular or vertical, which gives them a wide range of vision. The meerkat can close his ears while digging, four toes on each foot, and retractable claws that help them to dig. They also have a long, stiff tail that they use to balance when standing upright. Their thin fur and dark stomachs allow them to control their body temperatures, whether by sunbathing or laying on a cool rock.
Though the meerkat may sometimes eat larger snakes, their everyday diet consists of insects, rodents, birds, lizards and even scorpions, since they have some immunity to the venom.
Meerkat pups are normally born during times when there is plenty of food, and the dominant female in the mob is usually the only one to have pups. Nevertheless, the entire mob works together to raise the pups, teaching them how to hide, clean, defend their territory and hunt. Mothers will even sometimes bring home live scorpions with the tail cut off to teach the pups how to hunt the dangerous animal without getting hurt by the venom. Different meerkats take turns “babysitting” the pups, and if the group needs to move to a new part of their territory, the babysitters carry the pups by the scruffs of their neck to the new burrows. Here, enjoy a video of baby meerkats!