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Safari Africa Animal Fact Sheet
MEERKAT
Suricata suricatta

Range:
Kalahari Desert region of Southwestern Africa including Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, and South Africa. Meerkats are highly social, and will live in familial packs called mobs or gangs which consist of up to 3 families, and comprising of between 10 and 30 individuals. Each individual family contains a breeding pair and their offspring. They exhibit sentinel behavior where one member of each group acts as a lookout for others in the group, watching for predators including birds of prey (hawks and eagles) as well as carnivorous mammals such as servals and jackals. Sentinel duty is rotated throughout the day and is announced vocally to the group. Although meerkats are generally diurnal (active during the day), their activity is determined largely by soil temperature around the burrows they dig. They will emerge when the sun is present and warms the entrance to their burrows, but will normally remain underground when rainy or overcast conditions exist. High midday temperatures will also send meerkats underground to cool off.

Meerkats are not cats, but are suricates-slender-tailed members of the mongoose family. The name meerkat is an Afrikaans term which literally translates to lake or marsh cat, but in Afrikaans means mongoose. Although they have an extensive range of vocal calls, and sometimes sit up like prairie dogs, meerkats are of no relation. Meerkats exhibit verbal arbitration, which means they are capable of assigning meaning to specific vocalizations, an ability originally thought to be exclusive to humans. Their vocal communication can consist of murmuring (any activity); growling and spitting (offensive threat); clucking (scolding); peeping (guard's assurance that he's on duty); a clear drawn-out call (avian predators); a gruff warning call (ground predators); alarm bark (defiance); and a soft purr (contentment). Like other species of mongoose, meerkats are immune to many types of animal venom, including that of scorpions, and some venomous snakes. The black patches on their eyes act as sunglasses to help protect them from the bright sun.






Habitat: Savannah and grassland, dry open plains, desert areas.
Diet: Primarily insectivorous. Larvae of beetles, moths, butterflies, wasps, and flies. Will forage for crickets, termites, spiders, scorpions, and other buried or hidden invertebrates. Lizards, small snakes, birds, mice, and eggs are eaten on occasion. May eat tubers and roots as a source of water.
Status: Least Concern (IUCN)
Approximate Dimensions of Adult:

Body length: 8 in (22 cm)
Standing height: 10-11 in (26-28 cm)
Weight: 1.6 lbs (720-730 g)

Lifespan: In the wild, the average lifespan is about 10 years, with ranges of 5 to 12 years. In captivity, meerkats can live to be 15 years of age.
Reproduction & Offspring: Gestation is approximately 11 weeks. Litter size averages 3-4, with 1-3 litters per year in the wild. In captivity, meerkats have been known to produce up to 11 litters in a 21-month span. Meerkats are sexually mature at about 1 year of age. Females will mate at about 2 years of age, and will breed when conditions are favorable. Breeding occurs throughout the year, but most births in the wild occur during the warmer rainy season from August through March.

 

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