Habitat and Distribution: Found in grasslands, plains and savannas of Southern Africa; primarily found in the Kalahari Desert, which stretches across South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Size: Up to 12 inches tall and 2 pounds
Wild Diet: Mostly insects; also small vertebrates, eggs, and plant matter
Predators: Hawks, eagles, jackals, and snakes
Lifespan: 5-10 years
Reproduction: Meerkats are sexually mature at about one year and breed year-round. After an 11 week gestation, females give birth to an average of 3 offspring. Females can have as many as 3 litters a year. Babies are usually weaned between 49 and 63 days. Both parents, as well as non-breeding helpers, provide care to the offspring.
Behavior: Meerkats are highly social. A meerkat group, known as a “mob,” may include as many as three family groups (up to 30 individuals total). Each family group is made up of parents and their offspring. Mobs live in burrows consisting of elaborate tunnel systems with multiple entrances. One adult will stay with the young while the rest of the mob forages for food by digging in soil and grass or overturning rocks. Meerkats are basically diurnal, but activity level also depends on soil temperature. In very hot weather they will retreat to their burrows to cool off and on rainy or overcast days they may not emerge at all.
IUCN Status: Least concern
Meerkats are widespread across their range and face no major threats.
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While most of the group is foraging, one mob member acts as sentinel, keeping watch and sounding an alarm if predators are seen. Sentinel duty rotates throughout the group in the course of a day, and switching of duty is announced vocally. Anti-predator behaviors include alarm calling, running for cover, mobbing, defensive threats and covering the young.