Meerkat

© Nigel Dennis

Name

Meerkat, suricate (Suricata suricatta)

Appearance

A meerkat, or suricate, measures 250 to 310 mm in head and body length and has a tail of 200 to 240 mm. A fully grown meerkat has a mass of 620 to 960 grams. Its body is a yellowish-brown to silver in colour and is marked on its back with rows of reddish-brown spots.

Their short-haired tails are tapered and have dark tips. The head is wide and round with a pointed muzzle, and the eyes are circled by dark rings. The meerkat is most often spotted sitting upright and looking around, balancing on its hind legs and tail.

Their hindquarters are more heavily built than their front quarters. The Afrikaans name ‘meerkat’ derives from the Dutch term which denotes a diet of ants, and the name can refer to either the meerkat or the yellow mongoose.

Meerkat Diet

Meerkats are very swift animals, enabling them to catch geckos, snakes, small rodents and insects as their prey. When pregnant or lactating, females forage more than other group members to have enough food to meet her energy requirements. Age groups and sexes have the same diet.

Meerkat Breeding

One to three litters can be born per year, peaking between the months of January and March in South Africa. Breeding occurs seasonally, allowing more than one female to breed at the same time in the same group. However, the intervals between breeding are dependent on the rainfall.

All members of a meerkat group take care of the young, one member remaining at the young’s den to tend to them, while other members are out foraging for food.

Meerkat Behaviour

A group of meerkats comprises of about ten individuals – an even amount of males and females. They are territorial animals and nocturnal, taking shelter in burrows at nighttime or when they feel threatened.

Where They Are Found

The meerkat can be found in western regions of South Africa, populating areas from North West to the Free State, to the Karoo and almost to Cape Town, stretching westwards to the Atlantic Seaboard.