Meerkats: Designed to Dig

Meerkats: Designed to Dig

On a recent visit to a zoo, I was reminded of several creatures I’ve been wanting to write about but have been unable to fit into my writing schedule, or, as is typical of me, have simply forgotten about. The meerkat is one of them.  So I’ve taken some time today to write about one of the more unique species in creation.

Meerkats, known to science as Suricata suricatta, are the only members of their genus and are part of the mongoose family.  They are carnivores, feeding on insects and small animals such as young snakes or small rodents. Meerkats are immune to snake venom, except in large doses, so do a great deal to keep poisonous snake population down by killing juvenile cobras and vipers.  They live in colonies of anywhere from three to fifty.  Such a group of meerkats is called a mob or gang.  They rarely weigh more than two pounds and reach around 14 inches in length, with their tail adding an additional potential length of ten inches.  They are burrowing creatures, digging extensive burrows in the ground with their specially designed claws, or re-purposing termite mounds or other burrows for their own uses.  While digging, a special, clear, third eyelid covers their eyes, enabling them to see, without getting sand or debris in their eyes.

Meerkat colonies are very special.  Both males and females live in the colony and each perform the same functions within the group. One meerkat is always on watch at the colony, looking out for any potential predators. When a potential predator is spotted the sentry meerkat will let out a warning bark and the entire colony will scatter to the cover of the burrow.  The meerkat’s large black globular eyes are particularly keen and are great for scanning the horizon for predators.  Meerkats chief predators are birds, such as various eagle species.  Young meerkats are so terrified of birds of prey, that they will scurry for cover when an airplane passes overhead.  During the day, when most of the mob goes out to forage, some meerkats will be left behind. These meerkats are the babysitters. Their purpose is to guard and care for any young that the mob currently has in its burrow.  This duty is rotated daily, as the babysitters frequently do not get to eat. Since meerkats carry no fat reserves, more than a day without food would be lethal to the tiny two pound creature.

Meerkat mobs are fiercely territorial, willing to fight other mobs to the death for turf they perceive as their own. When rival mobs clash, they will line up opposite one another and attempt to intimidate the other into backing down by hissing, and baring teeth. If this fails, the mobs will rush one another.  Frequently, one mob will back down before impact, but, on the rare occasions when neither mob backs down, meerkats engage in a bloodbath, frequently killing and maiming rival mob members. Having captured territory, meerkats mark it using special paste made in special scent organs located under their tail. These pouch like organs secrete the paste on rocks and plants upon contact. Meerkats rub against these objects to mark their territory.  Meerkats have a special patch of bare skin on their stomachs. They use this to help warm up, by standing erect and exposing it to the southern African sun.

Meerkat breeding occurs year round and involves none of the showy displays common in so many other creatures. Meerkat males and females simply tussle until the female submits.  In smaller mobs, a dominant female will only permit herself to reproduce, killing the offspring of other females. In a larger colony, this is much harder to do and the dominant female will permit other females to mate. The whole mob helps raise each offspring, with females who have never had young producing milk to help nurture the newborn.  Female meerkats have the ability to smell if another meerkat is related to them, which helps keep the amount of inbreeding to a minimum.  Most meerkat litters consist of three pups, though anything from five on down is possible.  When the pups are old enough to leave the burrow, adult meerkats help them learn to hunt.  They have been observed demonstrating to a pup how to remove a scorpion’s stinger and avoid its snippy chelipeds.

Now that we have a basic knowledge of meerkats, we can examine how they fit into the origins debate. Meerkats have a number of special features, not commonly seen in the animal kingdom. The immunity to scorpion venom and the near immunity to snake venom is shared with their mongoose cousins, but still demands an explanation. Where did this immunity come from? How did meerkats and mongooses develop this incredible ability? Why do meerkats have a special patch of skin bereft of hair, in a perfect place to be exposed to the sun for warmth? How did meerkats learn to live in colonies, post sentries, assign rotating babysitters, and teach their young? All of these behaviors have to be accounted for. Evolution has no explanation for why these behaviors, all beneficial, developed. Further, meerkats have the special, clear, third eyelid and the long, narrow eyes, that give them greatly extended peripheral vision. These features appear to be designed for a burrowing, colonial animal. The design of a meerkat cries out for an omniscient Designer. The Bible tells us Who that is. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Genesis 1:1. The meerkat was designed to be the burrowing colonial animal it is by the all knowing God of the universe. There can be no other reasonable explanation.

 

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