meerkat facts
HOME · Biodiversity

10 Marvelous Meerkat Facts About Africa's Famous Mammals

Those interested in the world of meerkats don’t need to visit the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Instead, they can explore this list of meerkat facts to help them understand these small carnivorous animals native to Africa. From tight-knit groups to eating contests, explore these mongooses in this post.

Summary: Essential Facts About Meerkats

Meerkat Profile
Scientific Name: Suricata suricatta
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Herpestidae
Genus: Suricata
Subspecies: Three: S. s. suricatta, S. s. majoriae, S. s. iona
Physical Characteristics
Size: 9.4–13.8 in (24–35 cm)
Weight: 1.4–2.1 lb (0.62–0.97 kg)
Distinctive Characteristics: Small, pointed face; large eyes rimmed with black; distinctive upright posture
Habitat and Range
Habitat: Semi-arid, open plains, savannahs, and scrubland
Range: Southern Africa (Specifically: South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique)
Conservation Status
Status: Least Concern (International Union for Conservation of Nature - IUCN)
Threats: Habitat Destruction, Predation, Drought
Current Initiatives: Protected in certain areas, habitat conversation, and restoration projects

Meerkat Q&A

These Are Some of the Most Common Questions People Ask About Meerkats with Answers:

  • What do Meerkats eat? - Insects, rodents, lizards, birds, fruit, and plant matter.
  • How long do Meerkat's live? - About 5 to 15 years in the wild.
  • Do Meerkats have any predators? - Eagles, jackals and hyenas.
  • What is a group of Meerkats called? - A group of Meerkats is called a "gang" or "clan".
  • Do Meerkats mate for life? - Meerkats live in matriarchal societies, with one dominant pair that breeds and the rest of the group helps raise their offspring.
  • Are Meerkats aggressive? - Meerkats are typically non-aggressive towards each other within their clan, but they can be fiercely protective against external threats.
  • What's unique about a Meerkat's eyes? - Meerkats have a special membrane over their eyes that protects them from dirt while they are digging and allows them to see clearly in harsh sunlight.
  • Do Meerkats make sounds? - Yes, they communicate using a variety of sounds such as growls, barks, whistles, and trills. They also talk through body language. Call alerts and defensive postures are normal when there are hungry predators or environmental changes.
  • How do Meerkats stay cool in the desert? - They dig burrows that provide shade and cooler temperatures, and they sunbathe in the morning to warm up for the day's activities.

10 More Interesting Meerkat Facts in Detail

Photo by Raimund Schlager on Unsplash

1. Meerkats have unique looks.

Belonging to the mongoose family, meerkats are burrowers with a distinct appearance living in sub-Saharan Africa. Their slender bodies, typically 9.4–13.8 in (24–35 cm) long, perfectly suit their habit of digging into the sandy soils of their habitat. 

Moreover, meerkats have pointed snouts that can root out insects in the ground. They also have dark patches around their eyes, which absorb the rays from the African sun, preventing glare and helping them spot predators from afar. 

2. Meerkats are social animals.

meerkat standing
Photo by Hugo Herrera on Unsplash

Meerkats are social animals that rely on their communities, referred to as 'clans' or 'mobs,' which can accommodate up to 50 members. A dominant female and her mate sit at the top of every meerkat group.

Moreover, each meerkat follows a designated role like forager, guard, or nanny, which creates harmony within the group. For example, appointed nannies or helpers care for baby meerkats or meerkat pups born deaf and blind. Female meerkats give birth to three or four pups.

3. Meerkats are immune to several venoms.

Living in the Kalahari and Namib Desert, meerkats live together with venomous snakes and scorpions. Since they also eat small reptiles like snakes and poisonous scorpions, meerkats have evolved a resistance to certain venoms1. Additionally, meerkats rub scorpions on the ground to remove the remaining venom from their exoskeletons.

However, the meerkat is only immune to venoms from animals they frequently encounter. Its high selectivity means some venoms can still kill a meerkat.  

4. Meerkats love sunbathing.

suricate screaming
Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

During cool early mornings, a meerkat's metabolism is initially slow. So, they lie under the sun for warmth, giving them the energy to start the day. 

Moreover, meerkats sunbathe in family groups, huddling closely together. They also groom each other while sunbathing, removing parasites, and cleaning their peers. Likewise, meerkats use their bushy tails as makeshift umbrellas to protect themselves from the African desert.

5. Meerkats stand guard over each other.

When they eat, a meerkat mob appoints one member to watch while the others hunt for food2. For example, the appointed sentinel climbs a termite mound or tree stump and scans the environment for threats. 

It stands on its hind legs while its tail props its body up while the others eat or young meerkats play under the sun. As the first line of defense keeping mob members safe from eagles or jackals, the sentinel might be the first to die or go hungry while the rest are eating3.

6. Meerkats like to cuddle.

suricate on rock
Photo by MediaEcke on Unsplash

Meerkats cuddle each other to survive the harsh African heat. These highly social animals live in burrows six to eight feet deep, forming a complex maze of tunnels and rooms. However, despite the ample space, meerkats prefer to huddle together and interlace their fur and paws. Doing so keeps them warm and strengthens communal bonds. 

Additionally, meerkats modify this behavior depending on the environment. During summer, they reduce cuddling to keep themselves cool inside the burrows. They might even sleep on the surface. Regardless, meerkats remain in closely grouped clusters.

7. Meerkats can fight to the death.

This meerkat fact shows how this innocent mongoose is actually a vicious animal. In 2016, a study observed over 1,000 animal species and discovered that nearly one in five meerkat deaths came from violence within their species4

Why are meerkats violent? Their need to survive a harsh life causes them to become aggressive. When food is scarce or rival meerkats encroach on their territory, mob members do not back down. Within the group, they use their sharp claws and teeth to fight for a partner or to establish hierarchy.

8. Meerkats hold eating contests.

When a dominant female dies, the power dynamics shift in a meerkat mob. While the eldest daughters usually take the throne, an ambitious younger sister with the right instincts can usurp the seat for herself. The competing daughters fight for the throne by gaining weight. This growth spurt shows their ability to outsmart rivals and lead the clan beyond good genes or better access to food5

9. Meerkats are invaluable to the ecosystem.

trio of meerkats
Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

Meerkats live in arid landscapes like the Kalahari desert and help regulate pest populations in the desert. They eat beetles, spiders, centipedes, and venomous scorpions, preventing an insect takeover that disrupts the ecosystem balance and harms plants and other animals.

Moreover, when meerkats dig their burrows, they aerate the soil and improve its ability to absorb water and nutrients. They help plants grow in the desert soil. Additionally, meerkat burrows are a haven for other small animals, enhancing biodiversity in the desert. 

10. Meerkats face several threats.

Human expansion in the southern region of Africa threatens meerkat populations. While not endangered, meerkats struggle for space as farms and buildings replace their burrows. 

Moreover, meerkats struggle against the effects of climate change. Thanks to climate change, rainfall patterns have become unpredictable, while extreme weather has increased in frequency. Sudden heat waves can disrupt their burrowing habits, while an erratic climate might reduce their food supply of bugs.

What is your favorite meerkat fact? Remember to share it with your friends!

Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with M.


Holding, M. L., Drabeck, D. H., Jansa, S. A., & Gibbs, H. L. (2016). Venom Resistance as a Model for Understanding the Molecular Basis of Complex Coevolutionary Adaptations. Integrative and comparative biology, 56(5), 1032–1043.


Clutton-Brock, T. H., O'Riain, M. J., Brotherton, P. N., Gaynor, D., Kansky, R., Griffin, A. S., & Manser, M. (1999). Selfish sentinels in cooperative mammals. Science, 284(5420), 1640-1644.


Clutton-Brock, T. H., O'Riain, M. J., Brotherton, P. N., Gaynor, D., Kansky, R., Griffin, A. S., & Manser, M. (1999). Selfish sentinels in cooperative mammals. Science, 284(5420), 1640-1644.


Gómez, J. M., Verdú, M., González‐Megías, A., & Méndez, M. (2016). The phylogenetic roots of human lethal violence. Nature, 538(7624), 233–237.


Huchard, É., English, S., Bell, M. B., Thavarajah, N., & Clutton‐Brock, T. H. (2016). Competitive growth in a cooperative mammal. Nature, 533(7604), 532–534.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Chinny Verana, BSc.

Photo by Anggit Rizkianto on Unsplash
Pin Me:
Pin Image Portrait 10 Marvelous Meerkat Facts About Africa's Famous Mammals
Sign Up for Updates