The meerkat (Suricata suricatta) is a small predatory animal from the mongoose family that lives in the savannas and deserts of southern and central Africa.
Due to the habit of meerkats to stand upright on their hind legs, their tousled fur, translucent by the sun, creates a kind of a halo iridescent in the sunlight around the body. Thanks to this, the fur of the meerkat looks as if the animal itself is glowing, and therefore the local, very pious inhabitants, call them solar angels.
A feature of meerkats is that, being predators by nature, due to the scarcity of food, they are omnivorous and eat everything that comes their way, including poisonous snakes, lizards, spiders and even such dangerous creatures as scorpions. And if other animals from such a diet can quickly die, meerkats will not suffer in any way, they are immune to almost all poisons.
What does a meerkat look like?
As a species, meerkats belong to the mongoose family, the order of predators and the suborder of felines. Although they differ from cats both externally, and in lifestyle, and in habits. Scientists believe that meerkats are descended from the striped mongooses that live in southern Africa.
The meerkat has a fairly well proportioned elongated body, short legs and a slender tail up to 10 inches (25 cm) long. Meerkats often stand on their hind legs, with their tail helping them to maintain an upright position. Four-fingered paws, on which strong claws, with the help of which he digs holes and gets insects from the ground.
The body of the meerkat is approximately 12 inches (30 cm) long, covered with coarse ginger or brown fur. On the back there are indistinct transverse stripes. On the abdomen and legs, the fur is lighter and thinner. An adult meerkat weighs 15-2 lb (600 to 1200 grams). Meerkats move on all four legs, reaching 18 mph (30 km / h).
The head of a meerkat is of medium size, large eyes have dark rims. The look of the meerkat is piercing, which plays a frightening, frightening role. He has good vision, prone to hyperopia. The ears are small, black in the shape of a crescent, located at eye level. The auricles are able to close, which protects the hearing organs from the ingress of earth and sand when digging holes. The muzzle tapers towards the brown nose. The meerkat has a very sensitive sense of smell that allows it to find food underground at a depth of 12 inches (30 cm). The mouth is small, but it has numerous sharp teeth, on the sides, like all predators, sharp fangs. These animals have a keen sense of smell and good hearing.
Where do meerkats live?
Meerkats live mainly in southern Africa. They can be seen in countries such as: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Angola, Congo. They are well adapted to an arid hot climate, they are able to withstand strong dust storms, therefore they live in deserts and semi-deserts. A large number of meerkats live in the Namib and Kalahari Desert.
Although meerkats can be called hardy, they are not at all adapted to cold snaps, they can hardly tolerate even a slightly low temperature. Rare fur does not save them from the cold, and therefore at night, they sleep closely huddled together to keep warm.
Meerkats choose dry, more or less loose soils so that they can easily dig burrows-shelters in them. Sometimes they use abandoned burrows dug by other animals, or they can simply hide in natural soil cuts. In areas dominated by stony soils, meerkats use small caves for habitation.
What do meerkats eat?
Although meerkats are predators, in fact they eat whatever they come across. The main food of meerkats is insects and small vertebrates, all sorts of bugs, spiders, centipedes and other creatures living in the desert. To find food in the desert, meerkats have to bury themselves in the sand, but with their noses buried in the ground, the meerkat may not notice the danger and become prey for the predator. Therefore, during feeding, one of the meerkats periodically stands guard, it is replaced by another, which has already eaten. Meerkats dig holes not only in search of food, they thereby prepare spare burrows for the family with several exits in case they have to escape from predators. When danger appears, the sentries give a signal and the whole family rushes into the underground shelter. Several entrances allow them to hide very quickly.
In addition to insects such as spiders, centipedes, phalanges, scorpions, meerkats happily eat the eggs of birds
and reptiles, lizards and snakes. They also do not refuse some certain plants and mushrooms, especially such as
truffles of the Kalahari Desert. Thanks to their lightning-fast reaction, meerkats are not afraid to engage in single combats with snakes, from which they almost always emerge victorious.
Although meerkats are carnivores, they sometimes happily eat the herbs and plant fruits available to them, and they probably get vitamins. Quite often, meerkats are fed with fruit. They especially like the watermelon.
How long do meerkats live?
In normal wild conditions, meerkats live relatively short, figures from 3 to 8 years are called. In zoos and other more comfortable conditions, especially at home, the life of meerkats can reach 10-12 years.
Meerkats are herd animals living in large families, usually numbering 10-20 individuals. But sometimes the number
of family members can reach several dozen. So the largest family of meerkats observed consisted of 63 units.
Families of meerkats have complex internal connections. The eldest in the family is always the female, that is, matriarchy among meerkats. The main female has a special privilege, only she can bear offspring. If another pair
has cubs, it is not uncommon for them to be killed. At best, these babies are cared for by an alpha female. In addition, she determines all family relationships, and leadership of the entire family in the event of conflicts with other families.
Usually the meerkat clan controls an area of several square miles. Alpha makes sure that neighboring families do not violate the boundaries of their possessions. Due to territorial claims, conflicts often arise between meerkat families. Reflecting attacks or conquering new territories, they arrange real hostilities, which can be very cruel and bloody. Clans with a numerical superiority, as well as having extensive experience in such battles, usually win.
In everyday life, for self-defense, meerkats have developed a highly effective surveillance and security system. While the family is busy looking for food, one of the adult family members acts as a guard. He watches everything that happens around. What it informs its relatives about. For this, the meerkat-guard constantly emits peculiar sounds, quiet ones – this means that everything is calm, and with a loud squeal he signals danger. For a better view, sometimes the guard meerkat climbs a tree and sets up an observation post there.
With very keen eyesight, the meerkat is able to see a bird of prey at a very high altitude and warn the family in time. When the guard meerkat needs rest, another guard replaces him.
Meerkats are fertile. Females are capable of producing new offspring three times a year. Pregnancy lasts only 70 days, lactation lasts for about seven weeks. One litter can have from two to five cubs. The females have six nipples on their belly and they can feed their young in any position, even standing on their hind legs. After a month, the cubs of the meerkat begin to forage on their own.
Natural enemies of meerkats
The small size of the animals makes them potential victims of many predators. Jackals hunt meerkats on earth. From the sky, they are threatened by owls and other birds of prey, especially eagles, which hunt not only small cubs, but even adult meerkats. Sometimes large enough snakes can crawl into their holes. For example, the king cobra is able to feast on not only blind puppies, but also relatively large, almost adult individuals – those with whom it is able to cope.
Meerkats enter into a fight only with representatives of their own kind. They try to hide from predators in a shelter or flee. When a predator appears in its field of vision, the animal informs its relatives about it with a voice so that the whole flock is aware and can take cover.