Suricates: Guardians of the savannah
Suricates, also called meerkats, live in Southern Africa and belong to the mongoose family. In our blog you can learn about these fascinating creatures.
Suricates are relatively small mongooses: their snout-vent length is not more than 30 centimetres, and the straight, barley haired tail has an additional length of 25 centimetres. Fur colours vary between grey, brown and beige. There are eight to ten unregularly, dark horizontal stripes from the backbone to the flanks. Head and tail don’t have these horizontal stripes. The eyes of suricates are surrounded by a black fur pattern – which looks a little bit like a mask. Suricates have enlarged claws on their front legs which make it easier for them to dig in the ground.
Suricates prefer habitats that are arid, minor vegetated terrains in the savannah, but they also live in semi deserts. Suricates live in South Africa and the Southern regions of Namibia and Botswana.
Suricates are very social animals. They live in colonies of up to twenty or thirty animals. A family association consists of an alpha pair and its offspring. Several family associations can live together in one colony. Normally, suricates dig their own den but sometimes they use old dens of other animals.
Several members of the colony attentively observe the surroundings on their rear legs in front of the dens’ entries. If enemies appear, they send a characteristic bark to each other and a few seconds later all members of the colony run for shelter into their den. The animals rotate several times a day for proper observation work.
Almost 90% of their food consists of insects and invertebrates but they also eat birds, lizards and eggs. Suricates are diurnal. At night time, rainy days and strong midday heat they stay in their den.
Normally, a litter of suricates consists of two to four young. The gestation period amounts eleven weeks. After birth, the young suricates are not able to see or hear. They open their eyes two weeks after birth. The young are nursed for two months; they are pubescent after a year. Suricates can breed up to three litters per year; it’s possible because all members of a colony support each other while breeding. Suricates can live up to six years.
In South Africa some farmers fight suricates because they destroy farm land with their building activity. Furthermore, it is possible that suricates transfer rabies – in some cases humans were bitten by rabid suricates and ended up being infected. Although suricates are chased, they are not endangered at the moment.
Meet these fascinating animals while doing a safari or ranger training offered by NATUCATE in Southern Africa.