Meerkats live in family groups of up to 30 individuals. It is no coincidence that Meerkats are social animals. The desert is a harsh environment and in order to survive Meerkats require the cooperation of the entire colony. So dependent are they o
n cooperation that research suggests that if the number of individuals in a colony drops below the critical threshold of 6 animals, the colony will not survive.
Meerkats are a diurnal species (ie they are active by day). In the desert most predators are nocturnal – probably in order to avoid the searing summer daytime heat (in a previous blog post I explained some of the strategies that Meerkats use to deal with the heat). This may be one reason why Meerkats have chosen to be active by day. However there are still predators about during the day.
Meerkats dig for their food and therefore literally have their heads buried in the ground for much of the day while they are feeding.
In order to protect the colony from a surprise attack during foraging, each member takes a turn to be on sentry duty. Their eyesight is incredible and not only are they able to detect animals at a distance of kilometres but they can identify the species at that distance. They possess a complex vocabulary which includes distinct alarm calls for different predators. This allows the rest of the colony to know immediately just how severe any threat is and from where it is approaching (land or air).
Almost all members of the colony are closely related and this encourages cooperation and altruism which assists the survival of each individual. They all assist with the raising of the young and it is remarkable to watch them confront a threat in unison creating an intimidating united front. I was extremely fortunate to be present one day when one of a colony dug-up a Shield-Nosed Snake. These snakes are from the cobra family. Although they are venomous they also sham death until danger seems too close.
The Meerkat that uncovered this character immediately let out a very informative yelp and several members of the colony came rushing over to help. They warily approached the potential danger, while the snake was clearly shamming death. But when they got too close, the snake would writhe or strike at them and they would leap backwards baring their fangs and then carefully approach again. They kept this up for a while and eventually lost interest and left.
I managed to get some video of this interaction. It is really interesting. Have a look at it:
If you enjoy this youtube and let me know, I promise to upload more clips from this amazing interaction.
Meanwhile the meerkat says – that’s all folks: