Zoology A closer look: Suricata Suricatta

Discussion in 'Zoology' started by drlau, Feb 2, 2005.

  1. drlau

    drlau Premium Member

    Common names:
    Meerkat
    Slender-tailed Mongoose
    Timon :lol:


    Scientific Classification:
    Kingdom Animalia
    Phylum Chordata
    Subphylum Vertebrata
    Class Mammalia
    Order Carnivora
    Family Herpestidae
    Subfamily Herpestinae
    Genus Suricata
    Species Suricata suricatta


    Geographic Range:
    Meerkats inhabit portions of South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, extending from the south west
    arid biotic zone and eastward into neighboring southern savanna and grassland areas. These areas include the
    majority of the southern tip of Africa up to about 17 degrees South latitude.

    Habitat:
    Meerkats inhabit the most open and arid country of any mongoose species. They are found in areas of savannah
    and open plains and their distribution depends on soil type, with firm to hard soils being common living grounds.

    Physical Description
    The meerkat is a small herpestid with males averaging 731 grams and females 720 grams. The body and legs of
    these animals are long and slender, with head and body length between 250 and 350 mm. The tail is thin and
    tapering to a point, and adds 175-250 mm to the total length of the animal. It is not bushy like many mongoose
    species.

    The face is also tapered, coming to a point at the nose and rounded at the forehead. The ears are small and
    crescent-shaped. The color of the coat varies geographically. In the southern portion of their range, coat color is
    darker, with lighter coloration in the more arid regions. Generally, the color of the coat is peppered gray, tan, or
    brown with a silver tint. The nose is brown. The ventral parts of the body are only sparsely covered with hair. The
    fore claws are enlarged for digging and the tail is yellowish tan in color with a distinctive black tip. In addition,
    there are distinctive dark patches around the eyes. Dark horizontal bands run across the dorsal parts of the body
    except the head and tail.

    The skull exhibits large eye sockets, no sagittal crest, thin zygomatic arch, and a coronoid process of medium
    height. The incisors curve slightly and the cheek teeth have high, pointed cusps

    Reproduction
    Breeding interval
    In the wild, up to 3 litters per year. In captivity, as many as 11 litters in 31 months.

    Breeding season
    Year round.

    Number of offspring
    Average of 3.

    Gestation period
    11 weeks (average)

    Time to independence
    Young are weaned between 49 and 63 days of age.

    Age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    12 months (average)

    Age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    12 months (average)

    Reports from captivity indicate that there is no elaborate precopulatory display. Males initiate copulation by
    fighting with the female. If the female resists his attempts to mount her, the male will grip her by the nape until
    she is submissive. During mating, the male grips the female around the middle to maintain his position until
    copulation has ended.

    Females typically breed at about 24 months of age. The breeding season is extended in meerkats when
    conditions are favorable. In addition, females exhibit no synchrony of estrous, mating, or birth. Therefore, the
    pack can produce young throughout the year. In the wild, however, births occur most often during the rainy,
    warmer part of the year from August through March. Breeding may stop during times of drought
    Young are born with ears and eyes closed. They are unable to urinate or defecate without stimulation from their
    mother. Ears open at about 10 days of age, and eyes at 10-14 days.

    As in all mammals, the mother provides the offspring with milk. Young mothers carry their young by picking them
    up any which-way, whereas older, experienced mothers always carry young by the nape of the neck. The father
    meerkat may take an active role in parental care by guarding the young. Because of the highly social nature of
    meerkats, nonbreeding individuals are often part of the pack. These nonbreeders act as helpers, guarding and
    provisioning the young. (It takes a village...:D )

    Lifespan/Longevity
    In captivity, Meerkats have been known to live for over 12 years. Lifespan in the wild may be from 5 to 15 years.

    Behavior
    Meerkats are highly social and live in packs consisting of up to 3 familial groups. There can be up to 30
    individuals in a pack. Each individual family group includes a breeding pair and their offspring. Within packs,
    animals are usually friendly, but among packs, serious fights can erupt.

    Meerkats exhibit sentinel behavior where one member of the group poses as a look out, watching for predators
    and other danger. The sentinel sounds alarm by giving a distinct bark. If a parent sounds alarm, its offspring run
    to and huddle around their mother.

    Sentinel rotation occurs throughout the day among different members of the pack and is announced vocally.

    Sentinel behavior is especially notable when the group is foraging away from the burrow. During foraging, prey are
    located by smell. Older individuals often share food with juveniles.

    Adult male meerkats typically emigrate from the pack in which they were born and attempt to join or take over
    another pack. Females are usually philopatric (staying within the natal group). Nonbreeding members of the pack
    often act as babysitters for nursing females. This allows ample opportunity for these females to forage, thus
    maintaining a sufficient milk supply for the offspring. Babysitting continues until the young are able to forage with
    the pack.

    Very young meerkats are unable to dispose of bodily wastes without assistance from their mother. It is important
    that she lick the perineal area to stimulate excretion of urine and feces. (Geez, Mom...not in front of my friends!)

    Although meerkats are basically diurnal, their activity is controlled largely by the soil temperature. They are only
    active when the sun is present and warms the surface of their burrows. When the weather is overcast or raining,
    they do not emerge from its underground retreat. Similarly, during midday, if temperatures are too high, meerkats
    will return to the burrow to cool off.

    Food Habits
    Meerkats are mainly insectivorous, but will take small vertebrates, eggs, and plant matter. They forage regularly
    for these food items, digging in soil and grass and overturning rocks. Their animal diet consists of 82% insects,
    7% arachnids, 3% centipedes, 3% millipedes, 2% reptiles, and 2% birds. Captive meerkats will prey readily
    upon small mammals.

    Predation
    Predators include various avian and mammalian carnivores, such as hawks and eagles (particularly the Martial
    Eagle) and jackals.

    Meerkats show a variety of anti-predator behaviors. These behaviors include alarm calling, maintaining an alert
    stance by propping the body into an upright position, running for cover, defensive threats, mobbing an enemy,
    self defense, and covering their young.

    In defensive threats and mobbing, meerkats appear larger than they actually are. An individual will arch its back,
    standing as tall as possible on all four legs, with hair and tail erect, and its head lowered. At the same time, it
    will rock back and forth, growl, hiss, and spit in an attempt to intimidate its enemy. Mobbing requires a group of
    meerkats all giving defensive threats at the same time. If a predator approaches in spite of these bluffs, a
    meerkat will lie on its back with teeth and claws fully visible, protecting the back of its neck.

    For aerial predators, meerkats will most often flee to a burrow if an attack seems forthcoming. If surprised,
    however, adults will cover their offspring with their own bodies.

    Ecosystem Roles
    Meerkats are an important link in the food web. They provide food for predators. They also take many
    invertebrates, probably acting as a control on their own prey populations.

    Economic Importance for Humans:
    Negative

    Meerkats are significant carriers of rabies. However, there have only been 10 documented instances of
    rabies-infected meerkats attacking people or domestic animals in the past ten years. They are also a carrier of
    tick-borne diseases.

    In some areas, meerkats are regarded as pests. This label is probably correlated with the ecological effects of
    their burrow construction and being carriers of disease.

    Positive
    Meerkats may slow the increase of agricultural pest populations, in particularly Lepidopterans (moths,
    butterflies). In addition, meerkats adapt well to captive settings and are a popular zoo exhibit animal.

    Conservation Status
    No species of mongoose is known to be threatened or endangered.

    From: Animal Diversity Web.

    EDIT: Fixed Link

    [Edited on 2-2-2005 by drlau]
     
  2. kiwirobin

    kiwirobin Premium Member

    These are such cool creatures, the zoo in Amsterdame has tunnels you can go in and you put your head up into a plastic dome in the middel of the enclosure.
    They are quite comic to watch and are playful and busy. Unless they're sunbathing that is.