The popularity of the meerkat has soared over the last few years thanks to its cute features and impressive intelligence. Originally from the deserts of South Africa, the meerkat is now a resident of many zoos across the globe and a regular feature in popular media.
Still, there is much we don't know about the meerkats. For example, did you know that they have a superpower that makes them immune to venom? Or that they sometimes share their home with snakes? Explore more fascinating facts as we get to know the meerkat better.
Meerkats Are Immune to Venom
Researchers have discovered that meerkats can handle the venomous bite of some snake species because they are part of the mongoose family. In several locations worldwide, mongooses are prized house guards; while they may feel unwell after being bitten by a snake, they will recover within a few hours. Adult meerkats are also immune to scorpion poison, making them hardy little creatures.
They Are Not Cats
Researchers think the name "meerkat," which means lake cat, may have been a Dutch translation of a term that originally referred to these little creatures as monkeys. Today though, we know that meerkats are neither cats nor monkeys; instead, they are a part of the mongoose family. They do have one thing in common with felines - they are known to purr when feeling happy and content.
Meerkats Don't Drink Water
You might think that living in the desert would require an animal to drink a higher-than-average amount of water. But that's not the case for the meerkat, which gets all the moisture it needs from the insects in its diet. By comparison, a human being would die within 3-5 days if our additional water sources were removed.
Their Eyesight Is Remarkable
Vision is the most developed sense of the meerkat, allowing them to spot birds and other predators from miles away - a meerkat can spot an eagle soaring 1,000 feet away. The dark patches around a meerkat's eyes help them to reduce the sun's glare and focus their vision over long distances. In addition, long, horizontal pupils give the meerkat a wide field of vision without needing to move their heads.
Meerkats Work Exceptionally Well in Groups
Meerkats are highly social animals who can live in groups - or "mobs" - of up to 50 members. Each member contributes to the group by taking turns to source food, look out for predators, and protect the babies. Living in underground burrows helps protect them against predators, but if caught in the open, they'll lie on their backs while exposing their teeth and claws to look fierce. Interestingly, if they're in a group, meerkats will stand together and hiss while arching their backs, which can fool some predators into thinking they are one - much larger - animal.
They Demonstrate Exceptional Intelligence
The sociability of a meerkat and its ability to communicate and works with others as part of a group indicates that they are among the most intelligent creatures on Earth, as not all animals have the skills to form these complex groups and relationships. Meerkats are also great teachers and often show their young how to carry out essential tasks, such as biting off the sting from a live scorpion.
Meerkats Aren't Always Cute
The rising popularity of meerkats relies mainly on the fact that they are so cute. So, it might surprise you to know that these adorable little creatures can turn into ferocious murderers when they face conflict over territories. A 2016 study that examined 1,024 animal species found the meerkat to be the "most murderous," with around 20% of all meerkat deaths being attributed to murder.
Meerkat Mobs Are Matriarchal
Each group of meerkats centers on a dominant pair - or alpha couple - to whom every other meerkat in the group is somehow related. And within this pair, the female ultimately makes the rules and takes charge. Only this alpha female can get pregnant, and she may even banish other females from the group if they reproduce.
Rivalries Are Settled with Eating Contests
When an alpha female dies, she is usually succeeded by her oldest and heaviest daughter. Still, there are occasions when a younger sibling outgrows her sister and will fight to take the title of "head of household." And a 2016 study revealed how they do this; they have an eating contest. Over the following months, both sisters will eat as much as possible to try and outgrow the other, with the largest most often winning the battle for dominance.
They Are Excellent Diggers
Any of us who have come face-to-face with a meerkat will undoubtedly have seen these delightful little mammals digging through the sand and dirt. But many of us don't realize how impressive these skills are. Meerkats can dig their body weight of dirt in mere seconds - several body adaptations help them to achieve this. They can open and close their ears to remain alert while protecting these vital organs against sand, and they frequently blink their eyes to get rid of any dirt that could cause a problem.
They Have Excellent Defence Mechanisms to Evade Predators
You wouldn't think it to look at these tiny creatures, but the meerkat is exceptionally fast for its size and can run at speeds of up to 32 kph when trying to escape predators. In addition, a meerkat's impressive agility allows it to change direction effortlessly, aiding its escape plan.
Meerkats Don't Mind Sharing Their Homes
Meerkats are altruistic creatures who step up to sentry duty and keep a watchful eye on any signs of danger to protect the entire gang (not just themselves). And this sociable nature extends to other species, too - meerkats will often share their burrows with a range of wildlife, such as ground squirrels, mongooses, and occasionally snakes!
Meerkats Are Not Pets
Despite their cute and cuddly nature, meerkats aren't suitable pets. These wild animals can't be domesticated and carry tick-related diseases and rabies, which can harm humans. Owning a meerkat is illegal (unless you have the correct permits), though these beautiful animals are still sold on the black market.