Meerkat Definition | Characteristics & Facts

A meerkat is a small mammal belonging to the mongoose family (Herpestidae) and is native to parts of southern Africa. Meerkats are known for their distinctive appearance, behavior, and social structure.

Meerkat General Characteristics & Facts

Certainly! Here are some general characteristics and interesting facts about meerkats:

Size and Appearance

Meerkats are small mammals, measuring about 10 to 14 inches (25 to 35 centimeters) in length, excluding their tail. They have a slender body, short legs, and a long, thin tail that can reach lengths of 7 to 10 inches (18 to 25 centimeters). Meerkats have a pointed snout, small ears, and dark patches around their eyes, which help reduce glare from the sun.

Social Structure

Meerkats are highly social animals and live in groups known as mobs, gangs, or clans. These groups can consist of 20 to 50 individuals, with a dominant breeding pair and various subordinate members. Within the group, individuals have specific roles and responsibilities, such as sentry duty, foraging, and caring for the young.


Meerkats are native to parts of southern Africa, including the Kalahari Desert, Namib Desert, and other arid or semi-arid regions. They are well adapted to their habitat, which consists of sandy or rocky terrain with sparse vegetation.

Diurnal Behavior

Meerkats are diurnal animals, meaning they are active during the day and rest in underground burrows at night. They emerge from their burrows in the early morning to bask in the sun, socialize, forage for food, and engage in various group activities.

Cooperative Foraging

Meerkats are skilled foragers and primarily feed on a diet of insects, such as beetles, scorpions, spiders, and small reptiles. They are known for their cooperative hunting behavior, where individuals work together to locate, capture, and subdue prey.

Burrow Systems

Meerkats dig extensive burrow systems that serve as shelter, protection from predators, and a place to rest. These burrows can be quite complex, with multiple entrances and interconnected tunnels. They provide a safe haven for the meerkat group.

Sentry Behavior

Meerkats are vigilant animals, and members take turns acting as sentries. The sentry stands on its hind legs and scans the surroundings for potential threats, such as predators like birds of prey or snakes. Their keen eyesight and alertness help protect the group from danger.


Meerkats communicate using various vocalizations, including chirps, growls, purrs, and alarm calls. These vocalizations help maintain group cohesion, signal danger, and coordinate activities.


Meerkats have a breeding season, typically during the rainy season when food availability is higher. The dominant breeding pair within the group reproduces, and other members assist in raising the young, providing protection and food.

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The physical characteristics of meerkats are as follows:


  1. Size and Body Structure: Meerkats are small mammals, measuring about 10 to 14 inches (25 to 35 centimeters) in length, excluding their tail. They have a slender and elongated body with short legs and a long, thin tail. Adult meerkats typically weigh around 1 to 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kilogram).
  2. Fur and Coloration: Meerkats have coarse fur that is typically sandy or light brown in color, providing camouflage in their arid environment. Their belly and throat are usually lighter in color compared to their back and sides.
  3. Head and Facial Features: Meerkats have a distinctively shaped head with a pointed snout and small, round ears. Their eyes are forward-facing and have dark patches around them, which help reduce glare from the sun.
  4. Eyesight: Their eyes are well-adapted to their diurnal (daytime) lifestyle, enabling them to locate food and monitor their surroundings.
  5. Limbs and Claws: Meerkats have relatively short and sturdy limbs, with sharp claws on their front paws. These claws are used for digging burrows, searching for food, and manipulating objects.
  6. Tail: Meerkats have a long, thin tail that serves several purposes. The tail helps with balance while standing on its hind legs, aids in communication through visual signals, and can serve as a support while sitting or standing upright.
  7. Scent Glands: Meerkats possess scent glands located near their tail base, which they use for marking their territory and communicating with other members of their group.
  8. Adaptations for Burrowing: Meerkats have adaptations for digging and living in burrows. Their front paws have strong claws for excavating tunnels and creating chambers within their underground homes.

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Scientific Classification of Meerkat

Kingdom: Animalia (Animals)

Phylum: Chordata (Chordates)

Class: Mammalia (Mammals)

Order: Carnivora (Carnivores)

Family: Herpestidae (Mongooses)

Genus: Suricata

Species: Suricata suricatta

Key Locations of Meerkat

  1. Botswana
  2. Namibia
  3. South Africa
  4. Angola
  5. Zimbabwe
  6. Zambia
  7. Mozambique
  8. Swaziland
  9. Lesotho

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Meerkat FAQs

What do the Meerkat eat?

  • Insects and Arthropods
  • Small Vertebrates
  • Plant Matter
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