From their Burrows & Beyond
Who are these masked wonders that weigh less than two pounds, stand only a foot in height, and can make their living in one of the hottest and driest deserts in the world, the Kalahari? The answer, of course, is meerkats and they live in environments that few can withstand. The dark fur around their eyes deflects the rays of the sun, similar to sunglasses, allowing them to see vast distances across the desert. Meerkats are omnivores, eating both plants and meat, such as insects, rodents, birds, scorpions, fruit, leaves, and roots. They are even immune to the venom of several scorpions and snakes. Since water is not common in the meerkats' desert dwellings, they get all the water they need from succulent vegetation such as roots, tubers, and fruit. Although small in size, meerkats can shovel dirt weighing several hundred times their body weight to excavate their elaborate burrows. Each burrow is up to 10 feet deep with winding, interconnected tunnels and houses a meerkat family, called a gang, of up to 50 individuals.
Of all the animals in the world, meerkats have one of the most cooperative societies. Because they do not store food, meerkats eat on a daily basis and share their food with family members. Sentinels are individual meerkats that serve as lookouts for approaching danger, helping to keep the entire family safe. And lastly, subservient females take care of more dominant females' young, often times giving up their own reproductive opportunities. This seemingly altruistic society of meerkats continues to engage global inquirers and scientists alike. This month's Land, Sea, & Air explores the marvelous masked world of meerkats.