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Slender-tailed meerkat

Scientific name: Suricata suricatta


CLASS: Mammalia
ORDER: Carnivora
FAMILY: Viveridae

FEEDING TYPE: Omnivore
STATISTICS: Weight: 1.5-2 lbs; Length: 20 in

DESCRIPTION:
This member of the mongoose family is about the size of a rabbit, but can drive off predators much larger than itself with aggressive displays. Coloration is a light grizzled gray with black transverse bars on the back, black ears, and a brown tail with a black tip. Their forefeet have long, powerful claws for digging. The body is quite slender.

RANGE:
Southern Africa, in the Kalahari Desert south of the Orange River

HABITAT:
Semiarid plains, commonly with hard or stony ground

ADAPTATIONS:
Meerkats are highly sociable, living in colonies of up to 30 individuals. When threatened, they will attack in groups and dig up the ground to create clouds of dust. If food supplies run low, a colony may establish a new den where food is plentiful, up to a mile away from the original site.

Active during the day, meerkats are sensitive to cold and retreat to burrows at night. A meerkat constructs its own underground burrow systems, and has been known to share these tunnels with ground squirrels and other species of mongoose that are not in direct competition with it for food.

The meerkats' society is formed into groups, called colonies. Each adult member of the colony has its own job that is sometimes rotated and shared.

  • Baby sitters will stay close to the den with the young ones and keep them out of trouble while the rest of the colony is out hunting.
  • Sentries are very picturesque, scanning the skyline for predators while standing up on their hind legs and using their tails for balance. Sentries bark out a warning if they hear, smell, or see any predators.
  • Teachers go one-on-one with the juveniles to show them how to hunt.

Meerkats usually stay in the same colony where they grew up. But if the colony grows too big, a meerkat in its prime may move. The territory of a meerkat colony may cover many miles, and may overlap with the territory of another colony. The two colonies are usually friendly with each other. If the colonies become irritated or food disputes arise, groups could become aggressive. If this happens, an entire colony will group together and start digging furiously to create a dust screen to distract the aggressors. Then, a group of meerkats may advance toward the intruding colony in a series of mock attacks designed to scare off the intruder.

During the mock attacks, the meerkats make themselves look as big and intimidating as possible by stretching on their hind legs, using their tails for balance. Once all of the meerkats are in this position and are tightly packed together, they will start jumping in the air, growling and snarling aggressively. If the intruder still tries to go after the colony, some of the braver meerkats will snap and bite at it. If forced on the defensive, the meerkat throws itself on its back, with teeth bared and claws out.

REPRODUCTION:
Normally there is a single annual litter. Mating occurs in the months of September and October. Females initially resist the male until he seizes her by the neck. Gestation lasts over two months. Two to five young are then born, reaching sexual maturity at one year.

PREY/PREDATOR:
Prey to larger predators, such as lions, hyenas and birds of prey
Predator to smaller animals. Immune to the venom of snakes and scorpions

WILD DIET: Insects, snails, rodents, birds, eggs. Meerkats eat poisonous scorpions by quickly biting off their stingers, and then eating the rest. 

STATUS:
It is listed as Least Concern with IUCN and is not endangered, but facing loss of habitat.

SPECIAL NOTES:

  • Meerkats have at least 10 vocalizations, including a threatening growl and an alarm bark. These creatures are often tamed as pets and kept around homes in South Africa to kill mice and rats. Meerkats enjoy basking in the sun, lying in various positions or sitting up on their haunches. Outside activity for the colony is usually diurnal.
  • When the sun rises, all the meerkats will come out of their burrow to stand up and catch some rays!

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. National Geographic.February 2009
  2. Macdonald, D. & Hoffmann, M. 2008. Suricata suricatta. In: IUCN 2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. March 2009.
  3. Novak, Ronald M. Walker’s Mammals of the World. Vol I. Baltimore, Maryland. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1991

 Published: March 2009

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