Meerkat

Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Herpestidae
Genus and Species: Suricata suricatta
  • Brown and yellow furred medium-sized mammal with a doglike face
Share this page:

Meerkat

Meerkats are active carnivores that live in burrows in Africa. Remarkably social, they live in groups that can number up to 30 individuals (called mobs) that cooperate in keeping watch over the mob and scare off predators or other meerkats.

Physical Description

A member of the mongoose family, meerkats (also known as suricates) have grizzled gray and brown colored coats of fur with dark patches around their eyes, which help protect their eyes from the glare of the sun. They also have a dark tip on the tail. Meerkats have powerful foreclaws for digging. Their pointed snout helps enable them to excavate prey from narrow trenches.

Size

Meerkats' slender bodies are 10 to 14 inches (25 to 35 centimeters) long and their tails are almost as long as their bodies at 7 to 10 inches (18 to 25 centimeters).

Native Habitat

Meerkats live in southern Africa, including South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. They live in dry, open plains, savannas and grasslands.

Communication

Meerkats are gregarious and have at least ten distinctive vocalizations. Females tend to be more vocal than males. Vocalizations include murmurs, threatening growls and spits, scolding clucks, and a defensive alarm bark.

Food/Eating Habits

Meerkats primarily eat insects, such as grubs and termites, but will also eat small vertebrates, eggs and some plant matter. They may chew on tsama melons and dig up roots for water. They are very possessive of their food and defend their prey from other members of their pack.

At the Smithsonian's National Zoo, they eat commercial carnivore meat mix, dry cat food, apples, root vegetables, mealworms, crickets and earthworms.

Social Structure

Active and social animals, meerkats live in groups that can  include as many as 30 individuals, although the average pack size is around ten to 15 individuals. Groups are called mobs, and each mob may consist of up to three families living together. Each family group consists of a breeding pair and their offspring. The family groups within a single mob tend to get along well together and there doesn't appear to be a linear hierarchy within the pack; however, females seem to be the dominant members of the mob. When a female reaches sexual maturity, she is usually banished from the family. The mob will band together in a large, hissing mass to intimidate predators or other mobs.

Reproduction and Development

In the wild, breeding generally takes place during the warm, rainy season—from August through March when food is most abundant—but may occur throughout the year. Males will fight with the females to initiate mating. The gestation period for meerkats is 11 weeks. They have two to five offspring in a litter. After three weeks, the young will first leave the burrows; they are weaned at six to nine weeks. By 2 months of age, the young meerkats look like adults. They reach sexual maturity at about 1 year of age. Fathers help guard the young and non-breeding individuals in the pack also help to care for the young.

Sleep Habits

Meerkats are diurnal and spend most of their active time foraging, basking in the sun, and grooming.

Lifespan

Meerkats live for 12 to 14 years in human care.

Meerkats are classified as least concern on IUCN's Red List. Related species listed on the IUCN Red List include the Indian brown mongoose and the Liberian mongoose, both of which are listed as vulnerable.