Height: 10 - 14 inches
Weight: 5.5 lbs
Gestation: 77 days
Offspring: 2 - 4
Life Span: 12 years
The Meerkat is a relative of the mongoose. It has a narrow pointed muzzle and dark rings around its eyes. Its ears are black and hardly visible and it has dark stripes on its shoulders, back, and tail. The underbelly is usually white and the tail is brown with a tuft of black hair on the end. It is 10-14 in. long with a 9-in. tail and weight about 5.5 pounds. It is active during the day and can be found basking in the sun in front of its burrow. It is often seen in a 'tripod' position, standing up on its hind legs and using its tail for balance. Meerkats can also close off their ears to keep out sand.
The Meerkat feeds mainly on insects, spiders, and millipedes that it digs out of the ground. It will also eat small mammals, grubs, small snakes, birds, and snake and bird eggs.
Slender-Tailed Meerkats are found in Southern Africa in habitats ranging from forests to desert. They live in underground burrows or rock crevices that can run as deep as 10 feet. They are capable of digging their own burrows but prefer using burrows that have been dug by other animals.
Their primary predators are the Kaffir cat, Serval, Jackals, and other carnivores that sometimes dig up their burrows. They are also hunted by birds of prey.
The Meerkat is an extremely social animal. Found living in large colonies (up to 30 animals), it is not unusual to find them sharing burrows with Mongooses, Ground Squirrels, and other small rodents. As social creatures, they perform different tasks to benefit the group. The baby sitters stay close to the burrow with the young. The hunters dig for food, which they will share with the young. Sentries keep watch for predators and teachers teach the young to hunt. When attacked, meerkats will dig up the ground to create a dust cloud to distract the predator. They will also fluff out their fur and groups will stage mock attacks to drive away the predator.
After a gestation period of about 11 weeks, meerkats give birth to a litter of 2-4 cubs.
They are born blind and hairless. After several days, they are weaned and the mother goes out to hunt. The young will stay in the burrow until they are between 2 and 4 weeks old. They start solid food at about 6 weeks. Once mature, young males will often leave to start their own colonies.