And The Interesting Lives They Lead!
Meerkats are adorable mammals in the mongoose family. The mongoose family consists of small, cat-like animals such as the Marsh Mongoose, the Flat-Headed Kusimanse, the Bushy-Tailed Mongoose, and many others. Yet, even though meerkats are cat-like animals, and "kat" is part of their name, they are not cats. In fact, unlike many types of cats, they are very social and prefer living in large groups, called mobs or gangs.
Meerkats work together to take care of the whole mob. They share the responsibilities of raising the kits and watching out for predators. They even work together as a team to fight off enemies when necessary. Meerkats need one another.
Like most living things, meerkats are well adapted to living where they do. This page will tell you about some of the things that make them unique.
Many of the photos on this page were taken by my son, Alex Tobey. He also wrote most of the article.
What Do Meerkats Look Like?
Pretty cute, if you ask me!
Here's A Great Photo Showing The Back Of A Meerkat
Meerkats have brown and gray fur. They are about 12 inches tall when standing up on two legs, and 6 inches tall when they are on all fours. They weigh only a few pounds and are about the size of a squirrel. They have pointed black noses and black rings around their eyes. Their ears and the tips of their tails are dark. Dark horizontal stripes cross their backs. Each foot has four toes. Their long tail helps them balance when they are standing up on two legs.
They may look adorable most of the time, but they do have teeth!
Where do they live?
They live in the southern part of Africa.
Meerkats live in the bottom part of Africa.
They live in parts of the Namib desert, the Kalahari Desert and other areas in Botswana, southwestern Angola, and South Africa.
Meerkats live in an area that is mostly dry grass and sand. There are not many trees or other plants. There is very little shade, and not much water either, because it doesn't rain very often. Temperatures range from freezing to 122 F!
Here is some more information about the African Savanna.
They live in these areas.
This Meerkat Lives in the Kalahari Desert
This group lives in Nambia.
Here's Another Map Showing Where Meerkats Live.
You can see some of these cute animals living in Botswana in this amusing video!
Meerkats are able to easily sit up, as well as stand on two or four legs.
They use their tails to help them balance when they're standing up on two legs.
They dig burrows in the sand.
Sentries Are Look-Outs For The Rest Of The Mob.
Protecting the mob
Adults meerkats take turns being guards, called sentries or look-outs, as the other meerkats in the mob hunt for food.They climb small trees or stand on piles of dirt or rocks in order to be able to see better. Their job is to protect the mob.
When they see a predator coming, the sentry makes a loud barking sound. As the predator gets closer, the barking gets louder. The other meerkats hear it and run inside their burrows. If necessary, sentries sometimes dig up dirt to make clouds of dust to allow the other meerkats and themselves a chance to escape.
Sometimes meerkats work together to fight off a predator.They stay close together and try to look like one large animal. They puff up their fur and hold their tails high in the air, while charging and hissing at the predator. If the predator doesn't go away, they lie on their backs and bite and scratch the enemy!
To help them survive in hot, dry regions
How Do They Survive In the Dry Savanna?
Meerkats are adapted to living in hot, dry places.
There are many adaptations which help meerkats survive in the often hot and dry savanna. The color of their fur matches the sand and dry grasses where they live, giving them good camouflage. The dark patches around their eyes act like sunglasses and also make them look like bigger animals to their enemies. Meerkats have a thin membrane between their eye and eyelid which helps sweep away sand and dirt every time they blink. They have sharp teeth which make hunting easier. They can smell bugs which are underground.
Because there are not many trees or caves on the savanna, meerkats lives in underground burrows. Sometimes they use the burrows of other types of animals. Other times they actually share burrows with other types of animals who are still living in them! But most often they dig their own burrows. They have long claws for digging in the hard desert soil and are able to dig burrows 5 to 10 feet deep in the ground, which helps them stay cool during the day and warm at night.
Look at those claws!
My dinner's in here somewhere!
They Can Close Their Ears Without Using Their Paws! - Closing their ears is important for meerkats who are digging!
Why meerkats need to be able to close their ears
When meerkats smell some prey under the ground, they rapidly start digging! And boy do they dig! In only a few seconds, they can dig up as much dirt as they weigh! Because dirt flies everywhere as they dig, they often close their ears to keep the dirt out of them!
The text is in French, but I found a website which shows two photos clearly highlighting the difference in meerkats' ears when they are closed and when they are open. (After you click the link, scroll down to see the two photos of a meerkat's ears.)
What Do Meerkats Eat?
What Do They Eat? - Guess what their FAVORITE food is!
They eat plants and animals - especially scorpions!
Meerkats eat both plants and animals. They enjoy fruits, roots of plants, and eggs. They eat various types of bugs, such as termites, beetles, centipedes, and grubs, as well as worms and snails. They also eat mice, birds, lizards, and snakes, which they kill by biting and shaking them.
But guess what their favorite food is! The scorpion!! It isn't that scorpion venom doesn't bother meerkats at all, as is commonly believed. Instead, Meerkats have developed a technique which keeps them safe while allowing them to enjoy the tasty treat of a scorpion. They first bite off the tail of the scorpion, and then drag the scorpion's body through the sand to remove any traces of venom on the exoskeleton! Thus, they can eat scorpions without being bitten! Baby meerkats are not born knowing how to carry out this technique, and so other members of the mob teach them, one step at a time. For more information on how meerkats eat scorpions, you may wish to visit: Are meerkats immune to poison?, by Josh Clark.
Like all living things, meerkats need water. But water is often hard to find in the savanna! Sometimes they find water in streams or puddles, but they get most of their water from their food.
Baby Meerkats Are Called Kits Or Pups.
Did you know baby meerkats have babysitters that give mom a break?
Baby Meerkats Have Babysitters and Teachers
Baby meerkats can be called either kits or pups. They are born unable to see or hear, and can't even move around much at first. They stay in an underground den until they are three to four weeks old.
Kits have babysitters to watch after them and keep them safe. The babysitters can lose up to 2% of their weight in a day of babysitting, from not being able to hunt for food! They do this to allow the new mother a chance to hunt and eat. She must eat, or she won't be able to nurse her babies!
When they are older, young meerkats each get their own teacher. Teachers show them everything they need to know about being meerkats, including how to safely eat scorpions.
Some Babies With Their Mom Or Babysitter
These kits are just coming out of their den for the first time!
Meerkat Resources - For more information!
If you are doing a report on meerkats, or would simply like to find out more about them, you may wish to refer to one or more of the following resources.
Schleichert, Elizabeth. "Meet The Meerkats." Ranger Rick July 2005: 22-27.
Books and other resources:
There is lots of interesting text and wonderful photos in this book! This book would be great for elementary aged or young middle school kids who have an interest in learning about meerkats.
This is a fabulous meerkat documentary hosted by David Attenborough.
A Mob of Meerkats
This book would be great for third graders to young middle schoolers who are writing a report for school. Each page has about 2 paragraphs of text. Nice photos too!
This nonfiction book for children 7 and up has beautiful photos and interesting, informative text! Information is included about meerkat's habits, appearance, diet, and relationship to humans.
For Younger Children
Meerkats: Safari Animals
This nonfiction book is geared for children in preschool or kindergarten. The text is easy to read, and not overwhelming in quantity for younger children. Pages consist of one to three easy-to-read sentences and beautiful, colorful photos. It's a great way to introduce young children to meerkats.
Meet The Meerkat
This is a nice nonfiction book for preschoolers, kindergarteners, and first graders. It has wonderful photographs in addition to information about meerkats. The text is very simple and repetitive - a plus for those just learning how to read.
Here's a short sample of the text:
"When I see danger I shout,
to my brothers and sisters."
Just for Fun!
This is a fiction book about a meerkat living in the Kalahari desert with his brothers and sisters. One day he decides he wants to get away for a while, so he goes on a trip. On the trip, he sends back postcards (which can really be opened and read). During the trip he comes to realize that there really is no place like home. Written for ages 4 and up.
This stuffed animal is very soft and cuddly! It's stuffed with beans and is very sturdy and durable! Approximately 8 by 4 by 4 inches in size.
200 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle with Large Sturdy Pieces
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© 2009 JanieceTobey