‘There is strength in unity.’ There is no doubt that this sentiment is a cliche, but there is also no use denying that evidence of this adage pops up in almost every nook and cranny of nature. In this particular piece, we want to discuss an unusual, fascinating animal that demonstrates how this sort of unity can be endlessly powerful.
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Meerkats (also known as suricates) are a member of the mongoose family. It is carnivorous in nature and is mainly found throughout the Kalahari Desert and the Namib Desert in Namibia and southwestern Angola. Due to their frequent sightings in groups, a group of meerkats is also called a “mob”, a “gang”, or a “clan”. A typical clan boasts around 20 meerkats, but there are also some larger families that consist of 50 or more meerkats.
Specialty of Meerkats
Unlike the many animals that are known for their might (lions or tigers), their amazing running skills (cheetahs), or some powerful natural weapon (rhino horn), meerkats do not have anything immediately obvious in their physical attributes that makes them stand out. However, they do know how to hunt for prey and hide from their predators with incredible skill, largely based on their clever communal organization.
United We Stand!
Meerkats have a real passion for teamwork, which is evident in the way they go about different activities. They always live in burrows that typically contain 20-50 meerkats, and there are often a few different burrows located in close proximity where multiple meerkat families live in perfect harmony. When they need food, they venture out of their burrows in a group to search for it, but this is where things get interesting. The most defining characteristic of meerkats is that you will always find at least one meerkat keeping a lookout for their main enemies and primary predators – birds of prey.
Therefore, when the rest of the group is busy looking for food in a given area, there is at least one sentry meerkat watching over the group for any signs of danger. If it sees something threatening, it lets out a unique warning bark and the other meerkats immediately dash to the nearest bolthole for cover.
Meerkats not only apply teamwork for defense and protection, but also for offensive tasks. They commonly hunt venomous animals like snakes and scorpions, which raises a natural question: are they impervious to venom?
In a way, they are, but not entirely. It is true that meerkats show a high tolerance when it comes to the venom of these animals. This is because of their highly mutated neurotransmitters, which prevent the venom from causing muscle paralysis. Still, they are not completely impervious to these toxins; if a meerkat is stung by a particularly toxic species of animal, then it could die, but it is more likely to survive than other animals. More importantly, how do meerkats manage to hunt such poisonous animals?
Meerkats make mince-meat of these poisonous creatures by attacking in a pack. They use mobbing, a very intelligent ambush tactic, to strike their prey (say, a snake) at the same time from all directions. In the case of a scorpion, they move with amazing reflexes to bite off the stinger of the scorpion before it can do any damage to them.
Given such clever tactics and teamwork of meerkats, one must be reminded of the powerful techniques that humans possess in terms of sustaining their survival. It’s amazing to see how connected all of life is on this planet, and the clever strategies of teamwork and collaboration that human beings rely on so heavily have been playing out in the natural world for millions of years.