Meerkats may be small, but they’re pretty tough when it comes to living rough. Able to withstand harsh environments like the desert, meerkats have developed unique ways in which they are able to adapt and thrive in such arid conditions. To put it simply: they’re incredibly fascinating (and hardcore!) creatures.
Here we take a look at the habituated meerkat colony found living at Tswalu Kalahari Private Game Reserve in the southern Kalahari, South Africa, and provide some fascinating facts below:
1. If you have a close look at a meerkat’s face, you will see dark patches around their eyes. These patches help to reduce the glare of the intense sun – especially helpful if you are on sentinel duty keeping a look-out for predators.
2. Their eyes are formed in a way that gives them a wide-angled view of the landscape, making it easier to spot predators that may be sneaking up on the colony.
3. Meerkats live in underground burrows and have developed unique ways to handle the fine Kalahari sand. Firstly their eyes have a specially adapted clear membrane that shields them from the sand while digging, and secondly, their ears are crescent-shaped and are able to close when digging so as to prevent the sand from getting in – and they can still hear alarm calls when their ears are closed!
4. You might think that it could get pretty hot in a burrow, especially when daytime temperature can reach up to 45˚C, but it’s actually the opposite. The red Kalahari sands – the red is due to the iron oxide that thinly coats each grain – is quick to absorb and hold any precious rainfall, preventing it from being evaporated. The sand therefore creates the perfect insulation, keeping the surface temperatures at the top, and maintaining cooler, more liveable temperatures below.
This makes it possible for the meerkats to survive and live in their underground burrows without being cooked alive during the heat of the day.
5. Even though it may get extremely hot in the Kalahari, it can still get quite chilly during winter, especially overnight and in the early morning. To help warm up, meerkats have only a thin layer of fur on their bellies, which they turn towards the sun.