12 Fascinating facts about Meerkats. Size, diet, smell & immunity to scorpion venom.

group of meerkats

Meerkats are the adorable little surprises that greet you when you visit the arid areas of Southern Africa. There is so much more to these cute burrowing inhabitants of the Kalahari than meets the eye and that is what we'll explore with this article.

Interesting Facts About Meerkats

1. How big is a meerkat?

A meerkat is a smaller mongoose with a head-body length of around 14 inches. Meerkats weigh between 0.6 and 0.97 kilograms (1.4 - 2 lb). Females meerkats tend to be slightly bigger than males.

Meerkats are slightly bigger in size than red squirrels. 

2. Are Meerkats and Mongoose related?

Meerkats are small mongooses found in Southern African countries especially Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. They are part of the mongoose family - Herpestidae - that is made up of small carnivorous mammals.
Meerkats are not members of the cat family.

3. What do you call a group of Meerkats?

A group of meerkats can be called a gang, a mob, or a clan. Meerkats live in large groups consisting of around 30 individuals.

meerkats in makgadikgadi

4. How long do meerkats live?

Meerkats live a relatively long life of around 12 - 15 years in the wild. In a captive environment - like a zoo, meerkats can live longer. The longest recorded meerkat in captivity lived for 20.6 years.

You might think that 12 years is short, but lions in the wild rarely make 15 years of age.

5. Where do meerkats live?

group of meerkats

Meerkats live in savannahs, open plains, and rocky areas near dry river systems. The sparce vegetation enables them to easily see the predators. They can be found in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Angola.

6. What do Meerkats eat?

Meerkats are omnivores but their diet primarily consists of insects. Meerkats eat fruits, roots, small rodents, small reptiles, birds, eggs, as well as poisonous scorpions and snakes.

Meerkats are immune to the venom of the poisonous scorpions and snakes. Since the desert is dry, meerkats get most of their water from the food they eat.

meerkat eating a frong

7. Are meerkats smart?

Meerkats exhibit complex social behaviour and coordination which suggests that they are intelligent animals. The coordinated behaviour can be related to that of intelligent animals like gorillas, chimps, dolphins, and humans.

They have a social hierarchy and a well-coordinated system of working together. 

8. Are Meerkats immune to venom?

meerkats v cobra snake

Meerkats have evolved some immunity to venom from snakes and scorpions. Meerkats can gain full strength in a few days after being bit by a poisonous snake.

Whenever a meerkat is going to eat a scorpion,  it attacks the tail first and removes it. Once the extremely poisonous tail of the scorpion is removed, the meerkat smears the rest of the scorpion's body in the sand to remove any residual venom in the exoskeleton.

The remaining amount of poison is usually in smaller doses and a meerkat can survive that.

9. What threats do meerkats face?

In the wild, meerkats face threats from other animals that want to eat them for food. The animals that pose a threat to meerkats include birds of prey like eagles, snakes as well as jackals.

Besides the other animals, climate change is another looming threat for meerkats. Researchers have noted that an increase in temperature is related to increased fatality, especially in young meerkats.

10. How do Meerkats sense danger?

meerkats on look out

Meerkats have advanced senses of hearing, sight and smell which help in detecting any danger or intruders. Wherever there is a clan of meerkats, at least one of the meerkats always finds the highest point where it stands for watch duty.

In case of any imminent danger, the meerkat will vocally warn the others which will take cover and hide.

11. Are meerkats in danger?

Meerkats are categorized as Least Concern by the International Union for the Conservations of Nature (IUCN). According to conservation data and the IUCN, meerkats are not in any danger of extinction and their populations are stable.

12. Do meerkats stink?

Besides their adorable looks, meerkats do smell really bad. They produce the smelly paste from under their tails and this helps them to mark their territory in the wild.

13. Are meerkats good pets?

meerkat pups

While they are cute and cuddly, meerkats are bad pets to have. Besides the bad smell, meerkats can exhibit unpredictable behaviour such as being aggressive and biting.

Meerkats are very social animals, and removing one from the group would have negative effects.

Final thoughts

While meerkats may not be at the top of the list of animals making people want to travel to Africa, they are a wonderful surprise of the deserts in Southern Africa.

If you happen to be planning a trip to Namibia, Botswana, or South Africa, these adorable meerkats will be waiting for you. Just take the moment to notice all the wonderful things about their lives.

We hope you enjoyed learning about meerkats as much as we did. Feel free to send us any questions you might have and we'll be happy to hear from you.

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