A common phrase that has worked into the lexicon of humanity is that it takes a village to raise a child. In meerkat society it takes a village to raise a meerkat.
The meerkat, a member of the mongoose family lives in a family society called mobs. These mobs are between 5-30 members that live in Southern Africa, particularly the Kalahari Desert. It is while living in these mobs raising young that these members of the society teach the youngsters the art of hunting prey.
The diet of the meerkat includes a variety of insects such as spiders, beetles, centipedes, worms, and crickets. It will consume small mammals, reptiles, birds, eggs, tubers and roots. A significant part of their diet is scorpions and snakes of which the meerkat is immune to the poison.
The meerkat, which weighs about two pounds and reaches a height of 12 inches, has an alpha male and alpha female in the mob. Often times the eggs/young of the other females are eaten. Occasionally the young are pushed into the nest of the alpha female.
The females in the mob help to raise the new litter of pups and will protect the nest while the alpha female is foraging for food for herself.
The babies drink mother's milk or the milk of other milk producing females in the mob until about four weeks of age. Between the ages of 4-6 weeks the pups are taken to forage for food with the elders. During this time period they will survive on both milk and solid food.
From 6-16 weeks the youngsters find their own food, but are supplemented by the elders. They no longer receive milk.
At 16 weeks they are on their own to forage for food but have an adult mentor. They are known to beg for food until they are up to seven months old.
When the youngsters are being taught about hunting, they just tag along with the adult. They can raise a large amount of noise that sounds a bit birdlike that is a begging call. Listen to this begging call at www.science news.org.
At first the adult catches tidbits of small insects for the pup. Then it advances to bringing back dead prey. The meerkat tackles dangerous prey such as snakes and scorpion and then kills it.
After the pup has been exposed to the dead prey, the adult mentor will bring back a live scorpion and will remove the stinger for the young pup to kill the prey. If the prey starts to escape the pup the mentor will scoot the prey back toward the pup. In the next step the pup will present a live scorpion for the pup to kill on its own.
It is believed that the meerkat has developed this excellent method of teaching its young as a way to strengthen the pack. It is in the advantage of the group for these young members of the mob to survive as the meerkat is prey to other animals. In the large group they are able to protect each other more easily.
Sources consulted in the writing of this article include: