Meerkats

Suricato suricato Exotic, Southern Africa

The Meerkat is a mongoose with a slender body, tapering tail and long thin legs equipped with powerful claws. The face is pointed with a rounded forehead, dark eye patches and crescent-shaped ears. Meerkats have light brown fur with a grey and brown tint to it with stripes on their back. They live in groups of up to 50 individuals.

Distribution and Habitat

The species is widely distributed in southern Africa. They prefer to live in open country, characterised by short grasses and sparse woody growth. They are expert diggers and their burrow systems have multiple entrances and can be 5m deep. Within their territory the ‘clan’ usually have up to 5 different burrows that they sleep in at night.

Diet

Their diet is comprised mainly of insects and other invertebrates dug up from the ground but they will also kill small vertebrates, take eggs and plant matter. When foraging for food, one or more members of the group will act as a sentry, standing on its hind legs keeping a lookout for predators.

Life expectancy and breeding

In each group, the alpha male and alpha female are usually the only ones to successfully breed. The gestation period is around 11 weeks, after which 2 to 5 young are born. The pups remain in the burrow for 3 weeks, where they are ‘babysat’ by helpers. Meerkats mature at about 1 year of age; males will voluntarily disperse at around 24 -30 months old to form a new group with unrelated females, or replace a dominant male in another group. Meerkats live about 8 years in the wild (up to 13 years in captivity).

 

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