Meerkats are members of the mongoose family. They live in matriarchal groups of up to 30 individuals called mobs or gangs. These are comprised of an alpha mating pair, their pups, and other adults. Mob members have rotating designated roles, for instance, non-alpha females who babysit pups or sentries who stand upright on rocks or termite mounds—using their tails for stability—and scan the horizon for predators such as hawks, eagles, or jackals. If any predators are spotted, the sentry sounds an alarm that including barks, clucks, and whistles to indicate the specific type of predator. Once alerted to the threat, the meerkats run to the nearest burrow entrance called a bolt hole. After the danger has passed, the sentry is the first to emerge and check the area, letting the others know when it’s safe.
Like professional athletes who use eye black to reduce glare and improve their vision, the dark markings around meerkats’ eyes help to reduce the sun’s glare. Horizontal pupils provide additional glare reduction and give them a wider range of vision. Their front feet have long, non-retractable claws that are well-adapted for digging, and their small black ears can be folded back to keep dirt out while burrowing. Meerkats live in complex systems of burrows with multiple levels and many entrances and exits. A mob may construct several burrow systems scattered over many miles. These burrows are usually lined with grass and include a common latrine.
Meerkats live in arid and semi-arid regions of southern Africa.
This species is primarily insectivorous. Their diet includes insects, larvae, ground-nesting birds, eggs, centipedes, small rodents, reptiles, and scorpions.
An adult meerkat measures 10 to 14 inches in length and weighs roughly two pounds. In the wild meerkats live up to eight years, but can live up to 13 years in human care.