Social I arrived at the site to observe
Social and Behavior Patterns of Meerkats The animal that I selected to observe is the meerkat. This research paper will explain the behavior patterns and social structures of the meerkat. After touring the entire zoo, I selected the meerkats because they were more active than any other species and their location was closer to view than any other animal.
The weather was cloudy and warm and it was about 1500 hours when I arrived at the site to observe them. Meerkats have long bodies and faces. They have small round ears, long tails, and short legs.Their heads have an indentation between their foreheads and their muzzles. Their ears sit low on each side of their head. These ears are able to close when they dig in the sand. Meerkats normally weigh about 1.
6 pounds for a male and 1. 5 pounds for a female. They extend between 25 to 35 centimeters and have a tail length of about 17 to 25 centimeters. The tail is used for balancing when they stand upright. Their eyes have black rings around them that help deflect the glare of the sun. Their peripheral vision is excellent.
When digging their underground burrows they utilize their curved claws (Fuehrer, T. 2003). This was demonstrated upon my arrival. I noticed one of the four meerkats rapidly digging a tunnel or perhaps foraging. There were a total of four meerkats.
One was large in size, one medium, and two small. The meerkat community is also known as being a mob or a gang. They can possible have up to 40 members. There will always be a dominate alpha male who has breeding rights the alpha female. Then there is an alpha female who is the dominate female of the group.This is the only female who is to breed within the group.
Their coats were light tan with gray, tan, and brown sprinkled in with a metallic tint. The chest and stomach has no markings but only a patch that is barely covered with hair and reveals the black skin. This area is used to absorb heat during colder seasons. Meerkats are found in Southern Africa, the Kalahari Desert, Botswana, South Africa, Angola, and Namibia. On average they live between 12 to 14 years.
The four meerkats that were placed in this replica of their habitat were constantly busy.They stood on their hind legs and were very attentive to every noise and movement outside of their living quarters. There was always a sentry, or lookout meerkat on duty at the highest mound. These mounds were reddish in color and were raised at about 6 or 7 feet from the ground. Their habitat was dry and grassy with many burrows dug for their foraging practices. Since meerkats are mammals, they benefit from staying cool in the summer (burrows) and warm in the winter. Their layers of fur provide additional warmth when colder weather strikes.
Meerkats are territorial creatures.Although this was not observed, fights do occur and it takes place due to territory conflicts when one gang intrudes in on another’s territory or when one single meerkat is roaming and attempts to take part of better breeding options or gain access to another gang. These fights can be ferocious and may include biting and scratching. Some of these instances can be categorized as resource holding power. This is defined as the ability of an individual to defeat others when competing for useful resources. Living in groups helps provide a better chance for survival due to more protection be existent in numbers.
This way they can share the resources and also the responsibility of labor. Laboring appeared to be enjoyable for the meerkats as them scurried around the mounds and grassy area. They tunneled through parts of the dirt with their specialized claws looking to find lizards, insects, or other rodents. Meerkats also eat fruit and birds (Katie Kimble 2003).
Meerkats are primarily insectivores, but also eat plants, eggs, small mammals, millipedes, centipedes, and on rare occasions small birds. They are naturally immune to some venom unlike humans. (Attenborough 1986).Since they do not have any excess body fat stored, foraging is needed daily. These animals practice altruism when foraging and also remaining on the lookout despite how hungry they are.
Altruism is defined as helpful behavior that raises the receiver’s fitness while lowering the donor’s fitness level. This applies to the scenario where the sentry is on duty, hungry as ever while the others locate food for themselves. Sentry duty is normally about an hour long based on my recordings. They are known to dig through amounts of sand that are equivalent to their own weight in seconds when searching for food.This process usually begins after they turn a month old.
They mimic the behavior of their parents or an older member of the group. For example, meerkat adults teach their pups how to eat a venomous scorpion: they will remove the stinger and help the pup learn how to handle the creature (Thornton and McAuliffe 2006). This is one form of operant conditioning that pays off in the future.
Operant conditioning is a type of learning that is based on trial and error where an action or operation is performed more often due to the rewards.The meerkat who is standing guard makes soft hissing/peeping noises sounds when everything is ok. If he or she notices danger, it will make a louder barking noise that resembles a whistle. Meerkats walk and run on all four of their legs. This allows their heads to be about six inches above ground. When they do stand their total height doubles. This allows them to better see danger.
In addition they are known to climb trees and bushes to gain access to possible threats. This acts as one of the many forms of communication between the meerkats.While observing the four meerkats there was a small yet entertaining disturbance. The sentry on duty began to bark and hiss frantically.
It began hopping from mound to mound. The other three meerkats immediately joined the sentry at the highest part of the mounds and all stood at attention. They bobbed their heads up and down which seemed to allow them to measure the distance between where they were at and the possible threat. Their tails were straight and erect. I looked in the direction that their eyes were focused on.
There was rustling in the autumn leaves about 20 feet away. I spotted an armadillo that seemed to be foraging his self. As he got closer the meerkats got louder and my daughter and I began distancing ourselves just in case the armadillo saw us as a threat.
The meerkats were either standing on their hind legs at attention or running from mound to mound. The body language expressed by the meerkats displayed their cautiousness and possibly being threatened by the armadillo. One of the zookeepers chased the armadillo about 50 feet away shortly after its arrival.This did not motivate the meerkats to relax and resume their duties. They remained upon the mound for about six or seven minutes after the forced departure of the armadillo.
Meerkats are very active and their behavior is much like a cats. Shortly after the disappearance of the armadillo, the meerkats resumed normal activities. The sentry remained at its post, and the other three relaxed.
The medium sized meerkat remained on one of the mounds and seemed to be communicating with the largest of the meerkats. The smaller two began to play fight and nibble on each other.It also appeared that they were cleaning each other by licking each other on their backs and neck. There are several behavior strategies that the meerkats use and that were noticed by me.
Excavating was used when they would work one behind the other to renovate their burrow systems. They moved sand out of the way in order to do this at a very quick pace. Grooming was used also. They tended to have a natural reaction to one another when grooming one another. It is known for meerkats to remove ticks and fleas from one another and consume them. Play fighting also took place between the smaller meerkats.
They did not do this very often but once the signal was sent in reference to the armadillo’s disappearance, they did engage in toying with one another. This strategy actually teaches them to fight as well as shows which meerkat is more dominate. (A. Thornton and K.
McAuliffe. 2006) Meerkats are very sociable animals. They demonstrate altruistic behavior and are known for standing on guard for one another so that others can either play or forage for food. This is a position that requires them to put their own lives in danger at times. I personally found this species to be quite entertaining and educational.These animals display a form of altruism that humans could learn to apply on daily basics.
References Fuehrer, T. 2003. Suricata suricatta.
Animal Diversity Web. (2008) Katie Kimble (July 1, 2003). “Meerkat Studbook Suricata suricatta North American Region” http://library. sandiegozoo. org/studbooks/carnivores/meerkat2003.
pdf. Attenborough, D. 1986.
Meerkats United. (Wildlife on one. ) Bristol Macdonald, D.
, and M. Hoffmann. 2008. Suricata suricatta. In IUCN, 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Thornton, A. , and K. McAuliffe. 2006. Teaching in wild meerkats.
Science 313(5784): 227–229. PMID 16840701