Cute, cuddly, chaotic – all words you might think sum up meerkats, but in fact are myths. They are highly evolved and possess some amazing adaptations that aren’t immediately obvious. Read on to discover fascinating facts with which to impress your friends, neighbours or children.
Fact #1 - Meerkats are immune to venom
Meerkats may be able to handle a bite from some types of venomous snakes. Biologists have discovered meerkats are immune to some snakes' venom as they belong to the mongoose family. In some parts of the world, people prize mongooses as house guards because they can battle with deadly snakes, like cobras. If bitten they feel unwell for serval hours but make a full recovery.
Fact#2 - Meerkats are actually pretty tough if you look like lunch
Meerkats may looks absolutely adorable but they lead dangerous lives. They have developed a technique for handling the venom found in scorpions, which they eat. When a scorpion sees a meerkat it moves in quickly for the kill. The scorpion may be aware a meerkat is close by, but it grabs the arachnid so fast it can’t attack. First the meerkat zeroes in on the tail biting off the scorpion's stinger and discarding it. Without its tail the scorpion can’t strike delivering venom. The pincers may cause a nasty nip, but that’s all. There is however still venom on its exoskeleton. To combat this, meerkats have learned to rub scorpions in the sand to remove any remaining venom. Lunch is served!
Fact#3 - Meerkats are highly intelligent
Meerkats are much smarter than they look. A recent study at St Andrews University – Scotland – found meerkats use complex coordinated behaviour, which rivals that of chimps, baboons, dolphins and even humans. They solve tasks with help from their mob but also a bit of independent thought. The study saw meerkats engaged in a wide variety of social and asocial behaviours to solve tasks. In general the social factors helped draw the meerkats into the task, while the asocial processes helped them actually solve it.
Fact#4 - Meerkats are omnivores!
You may be surprised to learn meerkats are omnivores – they eat fruit and vegetables as well as animals. Unlike humans, they have no excess body fat stores and therefore foraging for food is a constant activity. Their diet mostly consists of insects, which they sniff out using their enhanced sense of smell. They also eat small rodents, fruit, birds, eggs, lizards and as we’ve seen poisonous scorpions as well as snakes.
Fact#5 - The desert is dry but meerkats don’t drink water
Despite living in the desert unbelievably meerkats do not need extra water in their diets. They get all the moisture they need from the insects and grubs they eat. A human would die within 3 – 5 days without additional water.
Fact#6 - Meerkats live in all kinds of deserts
Meerkats live in all parts of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, in much of the Namib Desert in Namibia and south-western Angola and in South Africa.
Fact#7 - Meerkats have remarkable eyesight
They can spot birds miles away on the horizon! Vision is their most developed sense. They have dark patches around their eyes to cut down glare from the sun and help them see far into the distance. Long, horizontal pupils give meerkats a wide range of vision without having to turn their head around. Meerkats are built for digging and have a membrane that can cover the eye to protect it while they are digging.
Fact#8 - Meerkats can grow remarkably old
Meerats can live up to eight years in the wild but life can be harsh and they have many predators. In captivity they live between 12 – 14 years and have been known to live up to 20 years.
Come and visit us at Tropical World to see our meerkats in person!