The Diet and Feeding Habits of the Meerkat

Jane Allyson's image for:
"The Diet and Feeding Habits of the Meerkat"
Image by: 

A perfect picture of how a meerkat lives, feeds and behaves can be found by watching the series; "Meerkat Manor", a British made television show produced By Oxford Scientific films for Animal Planet International.

It very cleverly brings you right down to the eye level of the Meerkat itself. Coupled with the naturalistic filming and the engaging and dramatic narration, you are given a fascinating and compelling view of the private life of these amazing creatures.

Meerkats (suricates) are highly engaging creatures and belong to the mongoose family. An adult will weigh on average about 2 pounds and will stand approximately 12 inches in height. They live in tight knit communities and depend heavily on each other for their daily existence.

Meerkats are found exclusively on the semiarid plains of southern Africa. They prefer to live among scrub-land areas, avoiding woodland and dense vegetation. Living in highly organized groups, each member has its own clearly defined role in their community. Working together as a group ensures their survival in the hostile environment of the Kalahari Desert.

At night, the meerkat will sleep in a network of burrows which they have dug with their powerful forelegs. The burrows can reach a depth of 10 feet. Sometimes the burrows are shared with other animals such as the ground squirrel and yellow mongoose. If the meerkat is forced onto rocky ground it will improvise by making its den between the crevasses of rocks.

Meerkats hunt during the day and have the need to constantly forage for food as they can lose up to 5% of their body weight overnight. Although the meerkats eyesight is outstanding for long vision, they have a problem with looking at things close to. This short-sightedness means that they will often miss a source of food that is right in front of them. For this reason they rely heavily on their sense of smell to locate food.

Possessing this keen sense of smell helps the meerkat to be a successful and efficient hunter. As soon as the meerkat gets close enough to its prey, it will strike out and kill it, often with a single bite. A large meal will be torn into before being taken back to the burrow to share with the other meerkats or if it is a mere morsel, it will be quickly consumed whilst on the move with the rest of the group in their relentless search for food.

Their food is located mainly underneath the soft ground and a Meerkat will often dig his own bodyweight just to capture a small insect.

Their main diet is mainly insects, worms, spiders, and snails, but they will also eat smaller rodents, ground-nesting birds and their eggs, lizards, snakes, fruit and bulbs and roots of favorite plants. Their favorite food is ant larvae which is a particularly good source of nourishment for them. They are tenacious little animals and will even tackle dangerous prey such as scorpions and snakes.

They will often drag the poisonous prey along the sand to exhaust the chemical defenses of their doomed victim, before biting off any stinging parts and then consuming the rest of their meal.

The youngsters of the group are actively coached on the best way catch their prey and how to deal with their meal once they have caught it. The elder Meerkat will bite the sting from a scorpion so that the young pup comes to no harm whilst practising.

Foraging for food is always a group activity. The meerkat will fan out as individuals but keep in constant communication so they can warn each other of any danger. The meerkat who has been left behind on sentry duty will be well fed and food will always be taken back for the patiently waiting babysitters as well as the pups.

In the Kalahari, the Summer is considered to be the wet season which can give rise to temperatures of up to 115(f) and winter is the dry season, with daytime temperatures reaching 80 (f) and nigh time dropping to 14(f)

These dramatic differences in temperature will affect the feeding habits of the Meerkat, who will adjust to the changes accordingly. During the wet season the meerkats are early risers searching for food before the heat of the day hits them and as the day gets warmer they will stick to more shaded areas. After a mid afternoon siesta, foraging continues until sunset.

During the winter, meerkats will wait for it to become a little warmer before venturing out to forage. The will rise at about 9.00 and be out all day until 4.30. Food is more difficult to find during the drier months and they are forced to do a lot more digging and travel further distances to find enough food for the whole group.

Meerkats will stay fairly close to home whilst hunting for food so that if they are threatened they can retreat to their burrows relatively quickly. When the local food is exhausted, they will move on and build a new home or move back into their old tunnels if they return to an older hunting ground.

We find meerkats to be fascinating creatures that often exhibit comical and often humanistic traits. Their impressive, sophisticated social interaction between each other and the group nurturing behavior, help to make them appealing and endearing characters.


More about this author: Jane Allyson

From Around the Web