Meerkats

The Reproductive System

Habitat

Suricata Suricatta, more commonly known as meerkats, live in are widely spread in south-west Africa. They live in dry, terrestrial, open spaces with short, sparse grasses and brush. They avoid deserts, forests and mountainous areas. They live in gangs, so as not to appear vulnerable by themselves. Pressures of the environment that they live in are that they are very open to predators and other meerkat gangs. The gangs are usually families, with one dominant female who does practically all of the reproducing, usually kicking out other females who become pregnant.

Fertilisation

Mating in the gang of meerkats usually occurs only between the alpha male and alpha female. They reach sexual maturity at around 10 months. Meerkat fertilisation happens internally. There is no specific time for meerkats to mate, they are able to do so in any time of the year, which is lucky, for them. However, a larger gang may mean that they are easier for predators to find them, as they will always be running off to find food. When they mate, the male will groom the female until she submits to him, then copulation begins. This type of fertilisation is cross-fertilisation. One to five pups may be produced, however, the largest number has been up to seven or eight.

Development

Baby meerkats are born in the underground burrow of the meerkats, where they have not yet developed. They do not emerge from underground until they are around 21 days old, and are weaned from 49-63 days old. Gestation period is around 10 weeks, or 2 1/2 months. Advantages of this strategy are that the babies will not be killed when they are young, and because they are fed their mother's milk for 50-60 days, they will be quite well-nourished.

Parental Care

A lot of parental care is given to the young meerkats. They are not allowed out of the burrow until 21 days, and even then they drink their mother's milk for around another 30 days. A week after they are released into the open, they go on a forage with their parents. They always stay with their family, unless they are kicked out of the gang. There is a very low mortality rate for the meerkats, it is very rare for a baby meerkat to die while in the burrow, and the meerkats usually stay as a group, so there is safety in numbers. This method is the k-selection method, because there is such a large amount of parental care given.

Interesting Information

Mating in the meerkat gang is restricted to the alpha male and female, however, a beta female may mate with a male from a passing gang. If this happens, the offspring are usually aborted, or the mother will attempt to smuggle them into the pack. If the alpha female notices this, she will kill and eat the babies that are not her, and usually evict the beta female from the group.

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