Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The meerkat (Afrikaans: lit. lake cat), or suricate, is a small mammal averaging about 2 lb (1 kg) in weight and about 20 in (500 mm) in length. A member of the mongoose family, it inhabits all parts of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa.
Meerkats have strong, curved front claws for digging and a sharply-pointed snout. They are brown with short, parallel stripes across their backs. They are known for standing upright to keep watch, search for prey or warm their stomachs. Meerkats have been known to engage in strange social activities, including what appear to be wrestling matches and foot races. More than one field researcher has reported witnessing meerkats in some sort of singing ceremony they compared to yodeling.
The meerkat is carnivorous, consuming mostly insects and spiders but also other small mammals. Meerkats are burrowing animals, living in large underground networks with multiple entrances which they only leave during the day. Colonies can consist of up to 40 individuals. They hunt in groups and protect their young.
Meerkat calls have recently been noted to carry an element of meaning, with specific calls alerting to the approach of snakes, birds of prey, or other predators. How these calls evolved is not clear. They are a clear demonstration that meaning is not solely the domain of human language, although no one would claim that the calls of the meerkat constitute a form of language.
Meerkats acquired some fame among the general public after David Attenborough narrated Meerkats United , a popular BBC documentary about them. In popular culture, the meerkat may be best known through the character Timon from the film The Lion King.
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