Conservation Education and Science
Animal Facts & Photos  
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SCIENTIFIC NAME: Suricata suricatta
ORDER: Carnivora
FAMILY: Viverridae
RANGE: Angola, Namibia, South Africa and southern Botswana
HABITAT: Semi-arid plains
DIET: Insects, grubs, scorpions, reptiles, bulbs and roots

The meerkat is a species of mongoose and it weighs less than two pounds. The coat is grayish-tan with dark broken bands across the back and sides, grayish-white head and throat and black eye rings, tail tip and ears. The face and body are long with small rounded ears; short legs and a long bushy tail, which is used for balance and for signaling.

Meerkats live in complex groups, relying on teamwork and cooperation to ensure their survival. Each meerkat has special duties, which benefit the group as a whole. Selected individuals stand guard to watch for predators and bark out a warning call at first sign of danger. When faced with the threat of predators, or rival groups, the meerkats frantically dig up the ground in order to create dust clouds to distract their aggressor. Also, meerkat groups may advance in a pack toward the enemy in a series of mock attacks designed to scare off the intruder.

The group retires at night to a network of underground burrows, which are dug by the animals with their powerful forelegs. After 11 weeks of gestation, two-to-five young are born blind and helpless. On day two after giving birth, the mother meerkat leaves the burrow to hunt, leaving other adult meerkats to protect her young. The young meerkats emerge from the burrow at about three weeks of age, closely watched by their guardian.

The young are usually weaned by seven-to-eight weeks. The mother introduces her young to unfamiliar food by running around with it in her mouth, encouraging them to snatch it from her.