Do you remember Timon, the character in the movie, 'The Lion king'? Timon, along with Pumba, becomes the aide of Simba. While Timon is an animated meerkat, Pumba is a warthog. Do you have any idea about what is a meerkat?
Meerkats are small animals that are related to mongoose. They belong to the genus Suricata in the family Herpestidae. These mammals are natives to South Africa, especially, the Kalahari desert. Meerkats (Suricata suricatta) are adapted to the harsh conditions of the desert. They have a slow metabolism, which aids them to thrive with less food and water. They have an average lifespan of 12 to 14 years. Nowadays, these mammals are raised in zoos, and are also getting increasingly popular as pets.
Physical Features: Meerkats are small furry animals with a body weight of around 700 grams to a kilogram. An average meerkat has a long, slender body, with a maximum length of 10 to 14 inches. Even the limbs are long and slender. Unlike the other members of the mongoose family, the meerkat has a long and tapering tail that is not fluffy. The tip of the tail may be reddish-brown to black. They use their tail for balancing their body, when they stand. In general, the body color of meerkats is fawn, with horizontally parallel markings that can be brown, gray or black.
They have a small hairless part on their bellies. This part is said to be used by these animals to absorb heat, when they stand straight. One of the distinguishing features of meerkats is the black markings around their eyes. Even the sharp snouts are brownish. They have small, black, semicircular ears. They can close their ears, to keep the sand out; while digging the desert and during sandstorms. They are equipped with sharp, but non-retractable claws that help them in burrowing. It is said that these animals can dig out a considerable amount of sand or dirt, in a few seconds. They have a very good vision, and it is said that the black markings around their eyes help them to minimize the Sun's glare.
Habitat: In their natural habitat, i.e., deserts, meerkats dig exquisite tunnels inside the sand. Such tunnels have multiple access holes, and are complex structures with separate sleeping chambers. Sometimes, they share their burrows with yellow mongoose and ground squirrels. Meerkats are social animals that live in large groups (called mobs, gang, or clan) with 40 to 50 members. Each member is said to be assigned with a different task. They are able to emit different types of voices and calls. It is said that different types of calls indicate different purposes. While some of these calls indicate the presence of a prey, some others are meant for cautioning other members about an approaching predator. Cobras, martial eagles, falcons, hawks, and jackals, are the common predators. Meerkat diet include insects, spiders, millipedes, centipedes, scorpions, eggs, plants, snakes, lizards, small mammals, roots and bulbs, watermelon, bugs, bones, and fruits. They are immune to the venom of snakes and scorpions.
Meerkats are social animals that live in colonies. Breeding is found to be more frequent in warm seasons. The gestation period is 11 months, and the litter may consist of 1 to 5 pups. It has been noticed that breeding is mostly done by the alpha pair, who may kill the young ones produced by other group members. The young ones get sexually mature as they reach 12 months of age. In short, meerkats are animals with some interesting features.