Meerkat Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Terry Dunn

Terry has a master's degree in environmental communications and has taught in a variety of settings.

Meerkats are loaded with personality! Even though they live in a harsh part of the world, they have found some interesting ways to survive. Here you will learn what meerkats are, where they live, and what they do that makes them such a beloved animal.

What is a Meerkat?

Imagine living in a tunnel system six and half feet underneath the ground with 15 entrances and exits that allow you to escape creatures that want to eat you. It's a good way to outsmart someone! There is an animal that lives this way all the time. They are meerkats and it's hard not to have an interest in their charming looks and entertaining behaviors.

Meerkats aren't even cats! They are in the same animal family as mongooses and civets. They are little, beige-ish animals with black fur around their eyes, their ears and the tips of their tails. They can stand up on their back legs to look around, but even then, they are only 12 inches tall. They are also considered to be carnivores (meat-eaters), but along with the lizards, crickets, worms, grasshoppers, birds, and scorpions that they eat, they munch on fruit, which is certainly not meat!

A standing meerkat
Standing meerkat

Survival in Meerkat Land

Meerkats live in the harsh deserts and grasslands of Southwestern Africa. That also happens to include the Kalahari Desert where there is little shade. The tunnels, or burrows, made by a group of meerkats not only allows them to escape predators (animals that eat other animals), it allows them to escape the intense summer heat and rainy downpours. If you were to dig tunnels in the dirt head first, you would come out with eyes full of grit, but meerkats don't. They have an extra membrane that goes over their eyes to protect them when they are digging.

Another way meerkats protect themselves from predators is by always having one meerkat in the group be the lookout while the others eat, take care of their young, or groom each other (which they do to get rid of parasites and also to maintain their social bonds). They alternate the role so everyone gets a chance to eat. Still, an occasional venomous predator will come along, like a snake, and meerkats have a defense against that too. They have a very high tolerance for snake venom and can endure six times the amount of venom a rabbit can.

Baby meerkats snuggling
Baby meerkats snuggling

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