Monday, March 21, 2011

Creature Feature: Meerkats.

Mongooses are already pretty cool creatures as far as their relationships with humans go. Even though they do not necessarily make good pets, they kill snakes, which humans generally consider a good thing.  Anything that gets rid of snakes, the rough antithesis of humanity in many cultures, is A-OK.

So how is it possible that a mongoose could be even more human-friendly? By making them act like people.

Meerkats (Suricatta suricatta) are close relatives of the mongoose. They are native to the Kalahari Desert (covering Botswana and South Africa). Like mongooses (mongeese?), meerkats are carnivorous, chowing down on insects, snakes, small mammals, and scorpions.  They are partially-immune to the venom of some species and 100% immune to the venom of scorpions.

Meerkat Manor is a slight stretch, but unlike many mongoose species, meerkats are social animals. They normally live in colonies of 20-30 meerkats all sired by the same male and female pair. Some colonies contain around 50 members, still all inbred cousins. As in wolves, only the alpha male and female are allowed to mate; the other meerkats show signs of submission such as licking their alpha's faces. This should sound like another social animal that we all know.

Can I be a mongoose-dog?

Meerkats have amazingly complex burrow networks throughout their territories. These allow a meerkat colony to escape whenever danger is around using nearby "bolt holes." Meerkats will also rotates burrows so as to let an insect population flourish in one section for a while. Call us crazy, but that sounds almost like farming. Almost.


Meerkats also have several different types of call. There are distinct warning cries uttered by a sentry, i.e. one of the meerkats standing on its hind legs all the time. These cries can be very, very specific, telling the exact location and type of predator. Meerkats also make several other noises that boggle human minds. Some say that only humans have language; social animals like meerkats come darn close.

Do not, however, attempt to make a meerkat a pet. They are adorable and act a lot like dogs, but they get hysterical if only one meerkat is around, scent mark like crazy, and will tear up things in an attempt to make a burrow. Hell, even owning regular mongooses is illegal...except in Hawaii.

STILL not like this. 

There are, however, some people who have gotten sick to the teeth of meerkats. An extremely popular ad campaign in Britain for "Compare the Market" has led to a slew of meerkat-related merchandise. The Russian meerkat from that commercial, Aleksandr Orlov, even has his own autobiography. No matter how much you love meerkats, this is like the Geico gecko suddenly getting his own book. Simples? 

In Soviet Russia, meerkat compares you!

Tomorrow: A pig under the sea. Kinda.

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