THE THREE MEERKATEERS

The words “cute” and “mob” normally don’t go together, but we can make an exception when it comes to one thing: meerkats. A member of the mongoose family, meerkats (Suricata suricatta) are small burrowing mammals that can be found in dry, open plains, savannas and grasslands in African countries such as Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. They have mostly gray and brown-colored fur with dark spots on their back and around their eyes, which help protect their eyes from the sun.

Meerkats are slender and can grow up to 14 inches tall with up to a 10 inch-long tail. They love to dig and dig and dig – no seriously, they do a lot of digging; they have powerful front claws and a pointed snout that helps them to excavate for food. A typical meal for a meerkat can consist of insects, such as termites and grubs (just like Timon from the Lion King!), but they will also eat small vertebrates, some plant matter and eggs.

Meerkats live in groups called mobs, and up to 30 individuals and three different families can make up one mob. Within the group, a hierarchy is established with a breeding female at the top with her male mate. She is the only female allowed to reproduce and any other sexually mature females are typically banned from the mob and must search for a family of their own.

Gestation lasts 11 weeks, yielding a litter of two to five pups. The offspring will leave the burrows after three weeks and become independent after nine weeks. After two months, the young look like mature adults. They can live up to seven years in the wild, but can live to be 14 years old under human care.

This species is listed as least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and does not have any major threats at this time.

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