Fun facts about meerkats

Stef Zisovska

Meerkats are small carnivorous animals belonging to the mongoose family. They live in all parts of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, in the Namib Desert in Namibia, in some parts of Angola, and in South Africa. A large group of meerkats is called a gang, a mob or a clan and it usually contains about 20 members. There are also bigger families that have up to 50 members. In the wild, they live around 6-7 years while in captivity their age is almost double. The real-life version of the meerkat doesn’t befriend lion cubs or warthogs, like in Walt Disney’s The Lion King, but even so, there are plenty of funny and adorable things about these cute, little animals.

They recognize each other’s voices

A meerkat
A meerkat

Just as we humans can identify our family members and our friends’ voices, so too can meerkats tell the difference between voices. They distinguish the voices of the members of their clan and react more when they hear them than they do when they hear a stranger’s calls. Scientists even made an experiment to see if this is true, and the result was positive. They played a recording of the same meerkat from a hidden speaker to a gang to whom the recorded meerkat was related and to a foreign gang. The first ones reacted as we would if we heard a familiar voice calling us.

Meerkat gangs work together

A meerkat gang
A meerkat gang

Meerkats always work together and are well known as being animals with a highly collaborative spirit. They have designated roles when they hunt and those roles rotate after a certain time. Meerkat co-operative behavior is seen as especially efficient when the gang is attacked by a predator. Snakes are the ones with the bad luck when they attack a meerkat clan. One predator against a whole gang is not a smart move. The gang gathers to harass the snake, biting and clawing at it until it retreats or is killed. Yes, that’s how a meerkat gang works – one for all and all for one!

Gangs are matriarchal

All meerkat gangs are ruled by a dominating couple. All the other members of the gang are somehow related to the alpha couple. Within the dominant pair, the female is always the one who’s in charge of the burrow. In the meerkat world, only the alpha female is allowed to reproduce. If a subordinate female gets pregnant, she gets banished from the gang. Subordinate females serve as nurses for the alpha female’s babies.

They use their bellies to keep warm

Closeup of a meerkat’s forefeet at the Knie’s Kinderzoo, Rapperswil, Switzerland – Author: Roland Fischer – CC BY-SA 3.0
Closeup of a meerkat’s forefeet at the Knie’s Kinderzoo, Rapperswil, Switzerland – Author: Roland Fischer – CC BY-SA 3.0

Have you ever wondered why they stand on two feet faced towards the sun? Most of the time it’s for surveillance, but it’s also a method of receiving the heat from the sun through their bellies. Actually, it’s the underbelly of a meerkat that has the thinnest layer of fur and you can almost see the black skin underneath. This part of their bodies is used for heat absorption after a long and cold desert night. Smart, aren’t they?

They have gang fights

Gang members
Gang members

They are cute, funny, and adorable, but they can be very aggressive, too. Meerkats are territorial animals, and they often fight for land with other gangs. This may sound like a ghetto movie to you, but it’s something that happens in the meerkat world, too.

Alpha females are really selfish

When a meerkat gang moves to a new location, the alpha female is never the leader. She always backs off when she feels there is something new and dangerous ahead and lets the other females make the first step. In their world, maybe this is not a selfish thing because it’s a matter of survival, and the one who reproduces should definitely stay alive. But, from our perspective, alpha females are selfish creatures.

Now you know more facts about one of the most interesting animals on the planet, the meerkat.

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stef-zisovska is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival