A group of meerkats is called a mob, gang or clan. A meerkat clan often contains about 20 meerkats, but some super-families have 50 or more members.
They are very social and like to reinforce their bonds by regularly grooming other gang members.
Meerkats at adulthood will grow to a standing height of 12 inches (30 centimeters) and weigh around 2 lbs. (750-820 grams). A pregnant female will weigh around 2.8 lb. (1.1 kilos). Their legs are short and their bodies are long and thin. Their tails are also long and thin with a dark tip. The reason for the dark tip is to identify other gang members while foraging for food. Meerkats forage for food with their tails in an upright position enabling them to easily identify their fellow gang members. Meerkats reach sexual maturity at 10 months and adulthood at 11 months. Both males and females share similar physical traits such as short hair and gray or tan markings.
The markings on their backs are unique and no two are the same. They have dark brown or black bands around their eyes. Their ears are tipped with black or dark brown. They have dark bands on their sides and back. Their faces and throat are predominately a shade of white. There are four digits on each foot with very sharp non-retractile claws which are curved. They use their claws to dig their burrows. Meerkats also have the unique ability to close their ears, this is to keep dirt out while they burrow, which they do quite often.
Meerkat groups utilize several different burrows and move from one to another. Each burrow is an extensive tunnel-and-room system that remains cool even under the broiling African sun. Females give birth to two to four young each year in one of the group's burrows. Fathers and siblings help to raise meerkat young, teaching them to play and forage and alerting them to the ever present danger from above. Young meerkats are so fearful of predatory birds that even airplanes will send them diving for cover.
An important daily activity for meerkats is searching or foraging for food, which means that they require large open spaces and plenty of physical activity. CAPS has investigated meerkat breeders and dealers in the UK and found poor conditions, such as a small enclosure in a pet shop and a cage in the hallway of a private home (see video below).
A private dealer visited by CAPS investigators kept an adult pair in a conservatory with a tiled floor and no access to outdoors. Babies were removed early to ensure the female bred again and at just 5 ½ weeks old were being sold for £600 each.
In the wild, pups begin to travel with the group on foraging bouts at 4 weeks of age, and for the first three months are fed by the helpers, whilst also being taught how to catch their own food. Early separation in captivity between mother and young can lead to behavioural problems for the pups later on.