The meerkat, also called a suricate, is a mammal in the mongoose family and is the only member of the mongoose family that doesn't have a bushy tail.
Meerkats live in areas of clumpy grassland and deserts in the southern area of the African continent, including the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, the Namib Desert in Namibia and southwestern Angola, and in South Africa.
A family group of meerkats can be called a 'mob', 'gang' or 'clan'. These groups usually contain around 20 meerkats but sometimes have as many as 50.
Meerkats live on average 7 - 10 years in the wild, and 12 - 14 years in captivity.
Adult meerkats are about 25 - 35 cm (9.8 - 13.8 in) tall when standing upright.
The meerkat uses its tail to balance when standing upright. They often stand up in the morning to absorb heat on their bellies after a long cold desert night.
Meerkats are very good at digging, they have long, strong, curved claws that they use for digging burrows.
Within their territory the clan usually have up to 5 different burrows that they sleep in at night. The burrows have multiple entrances and can be 5 m deep.
Meerkats mainly eat insects but also lizards, snakes, scorpions, spiders, plants, eggs, small mammals, centipedes and fungi. They are immune to certain types of snake and scorpion venom.
Meerkats have excellent eyesight, they can spot predators in the air from more than 300 m away. They have great peripheral vision and the dark patches around their eyes cut glare from the hot desert surface.
A clan of meerkats will always have one "sentry" on guard to watch out for predators while the others forage for food.
If the meerkat on guard spots danger, it barks loudly or whistles in one of six different ways. For example if the threat is of low, medium or high urgency and if the predator is in the air or on the ground.
For a high-urgency land predator alarm call, meerkats will scatter down their nearest burrow entrance. For a high-urgency aerial predator alarm call, they will crouch down and may look skyward.