Meerkats are members of the Mongoose family. They stand at around 25 - 35 cms (10 - 14 inches) tall and the weigh between 1.5 - 2 lbs (0.68 - 0.9 Kgs). Their tail is 17 - 25 cms (6.5 - 10 inches) long and they use this as a tripod to balance on when they stand in an upright position. Their ears are closeable to prevent sand from getting in them when they are digging and their feet have four toes with 2 cms (0.8 inch) non-retractable claws.
Their coat is usually fawn coloured with brown, tan or grey flacks. They have stripes across their backs and the pattern of these stripes is unique to each animal. The underside of the Meerkat has no markings and is sparsely furred showing dark skin underneath. They use this to absorb heat and warm up in the early morning sun.
Meerkats live in grasslined burrows in the Kalahari Desert and parts of Southern Africa. These borrows are shared with ground squirrels and Yellow Mongoose. They have one toilet area that is used by all members of the gang.
Meerkats are very territorial and they will defend their home from other Meerkat gangs. If the food supply in their area depletes the Meerkats will move, this usually happens several times per year.
Insects such as scorpions (Meerkats are immune to their venom), beetles, spiders, centipedes, crickets, millipedes and worms form part of a Meerkat's diet. They also eat eggs, tubers, roots, small mammals and small reptiles.
The Alpha male and female of the Meerkat gang do most of the breeding. The gestation period is 11 weeks and Meerkats have litters of 2 to 5 pups. In the wild the breeding season is from October to April but in captivity Meerkats breed year round.
The pups are born sparsely furred with their eyes and ears closed. Their ears open when they are about 10 days old and their eyes between 10 and 14 days old. When they are around 21 days old they come above ground and various adults in the gang look after the young near the burrow to allow the mother to feed. The pups are weaned when they are between 49 and 63 days old.
Their main predators are martial eagles and jackals. One Meerkat of the gang will stand guard while the others forage and play. When the guard senses danger they will give a warning bark and the other members of the gang will run for cover in one of the many bolt holes they have across their territory.