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Animal Awareness Tip: Meerkat

Maideline Sanchez

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Meerkats are one of the most adorable creatures in the animal kingdom. From the time they are born to adulthood, they never lose their baby-like features. They have an average lifespan of 12 to 14 years and from head to tail they span from 7 to 10 inches. They descend from the mongoose family and are situated in the Kalahari Desert and Batswana in South Africa. Like the mongoose, Meerkats are diurnal and have 2cm non-retractable claws used for foraging and digging the tunnels in which they live. Their bellies have little fur which reveals the black skin underneath, which is used to absorb heat during the cold desert mornings. As omnivores, they eat insects, lizards, snakes, and plants. They display altruistic behavior by alternatively giving or accepting a position as a sentry. Meerkats given this status are responsible for keeping watch of predators while the rest of the gang, mob, or clan (group of Meerkats) search for food or play. When danger is around, the sentry will bark loudly for the others to hear and they will run and hide in their tunnels.

Meerkats become sexually mature in 1 year and the average litter size for each is 1 to 5 pups. They are iteroperous, meaning that they can reproduce anytime more than once a year. After the pups are born, they will remain in the burrow for three weeks before being allowed to leave and play outside. As the pups are leaving the burrow, the other Meerkats will stand and watch this miraculous moment while other jealous Meerkats will prance about and perform for attention. Before the pups begin to search for food, an older member of the clan will train the pup to forage, similar to a tutor. The alpha pair of the gang reserves the right to mate and will kill litters not of their own. Sometimes however, to ensure the survival of the litter, the alpha pair will evict the mother along with her pups and will bring in a new member.

Did You Know? When the alpha female is away from the group, the other females of the gang will care for her litter with their lives.

Even if they have never reproduced, females will lactate to make sure the pups receive their vital nutrients.

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The Student News Source of the University of New Haven
Animal Awareness Tip: Meerkat