The meerkat is part of the mongoose family. It is quite an amusing-looking, yet still adorable, creature of Africa. Highly gregarious, they live in groups known as mobs – several of which may even form a community. Their natural predators include hawks and eagles and for this reason they work together as lookouts and guards. The lookouts will give out piercing calls to warn the others of danger. After they have scampered for cover, a few will remain to stand guard over the group.
There is a distinction between alpha and beta meerkats. The alphas are known as the leaders, whereas as the betas and the young meerkats make up the rest of the group. Interestingly, young meerkats are known as pups. The alpha male and female are the dominant couple of the mob. As matriarchal animals, the alpha female will choose the alpha male. Betas are subservient to the alphas until they leave the mob at the age of three.
These diurnal creatures work together when hunting and their diet typically consists of lizards, birds, insects, fruit and even scorpions. Meerkats have developed a method which allows them to handle the venom in scorpions. They live in burrows, which consist of an intricate underground system of tunnels. The burrows are used as protection from predators and the hot African sun, as well as a place for sleeping and breeding. Meerkats have a fairly short lifespan, usually 10 to 12 years; but can reach up to 15, when in captivity.