What Do Meerkats Eat?

Written by Brandi Allred
Updated: December 26, 2021
Image Credit Ulrika / Creative Commons
Share this post on:

Meerkats are recognizable for their pointed snouts, beige color, and upright stance. In fact, if you imagine a Meerkat, you probably see it standing up, keeping guard. Meerkats are native to southern Africa. Many of them live in the harsh environment of the Kalahari desert. They famously live in large, socially complex groups. And, meerkats are chatty. They’re one of the most vocal species of mongoose on the planet.

So, with all of these traits, just what do meerkats eat? Here, we’ll explore the Meerkat’s favorite foods, and how they get those foods. We’ll also go over how much meerkats have to eat, and what zoos feed their captive meerkats. Lastly, we’ll learn what baby meerkats eat, and how they learn to hunt.

What Do Meerkats Like to Eat?

What Do Meerkats Eat?
Meerkats are omnivores that eat insects, small reptiles, small mammals, and scorpions.

iStock.com/Pelaan

Meerkats eat mostly insects, but will also eat small reptiles, mammals, or scorpions. They are omnivores, and are mostly insectivorous. 

Meerkats are small, just under a foot tall and up to two pounds at adulthood. They are members of the mongoose family and live in large groups called mobs. They have excellent powers of smell. This, coupled with their impressive digging ability, allows them to eat their favorite foods:

  • Insects: crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, termites, spiders, and beetles
  • Reptiles: small lizards and snakes
  • Scorpions
  • Birds: small or young birds
  • Eggs
  • Mammals: small or young rodents
  • Plant matter, including roots and tubers
  • Fruits and seeds

Meerkats prefer insects of all kinds, but they are opportunistic, and not likely to turn down a meal. They won’t attack anything too big though, they would rather find their prey in the ground.

How Do Meerkats Hunt?

Meerkats rely on their sense of smell to hunt out their food. They spend up to eight hours of their day foraging. 

Meerkats live in large groups. They are diurnal, and forage during the daytime. One meerkat will stand watch from a high vantage point while the other meerkats in the group hunt for food. The meerkat snuffles along the ground, using its high powered nose, until it smells something good.

Once the meerkat finds its prey, it’s time to dig it out. Using long, non-retractable claws on its front legs, the meerkat digs down to the food. They rip the unfortunate creature, or root, from the ground and quickly devour it.

Meerkats don’t do much active hunting. They are, however, well known for their ability to kill scorpions. 

Adult meerkats are immune to scorpion venom, and can withstand being stung, even on the face. When a meerkat finds a tasty looking scorpion, they first bite to remove the stinger. Then, they devour the now harmless creature.

Meerkats have to move fast when it comes to eating, they’ve got a lot of eating to do in one day.

How Much Do Meerkats Eat?

Meerkats eat their body weight in food every day.

Fir0002/Flagstaffotos / Creative Commons

There’s a good reason that meerkats spend so much time foraging; they have to eat their entire body weight in food every day. For a two pound meerkat, that means a lot of crickets. It’s easy to see why they spend so much time out and about, searching and digging. 

Meerkats will accept almost any meal, provided it’s small enough and doesn’t present a threat. They will even eat small snakes if given the chance. Meerkats are well known for strongly defending their burrows against predators. If a snake tries to infiltrate the meerkats home, they gang up on it and deliver rapid bites until the snake leaves. 

What Do Captive Meerkats Eat?

While Meerkats sometimes show up in pet-stores, organizations around the world discourage people from keeping them as pets. Meerkats like to live in large, social groups; something difficult to maintain at home. They also spend most of their time and energy on searching for food, and as pets, they have little or nothing to do with their time and quickly grow unhealthy. 

Many zoos have healthy populations of meerkat. They provide them with large enclosures in which the meerkats can burrow, play, and hunt. The captive meerkat diet doesn’t exactly match that of their wild cousins, but zoos come close. Zoos feed their meerkats a combination of dense carnivore food, insects, fruits, vegetables, and sometimes even dried cat food.

What Do Baby Meerkats Eat?

What Do Meerkats Eat?
Meerkat babies subsist on their mother’s mil for the first three weeks of their lives.

iStock.com/Lubos Kovalik

Baby meerkats are called pups. Meerkats have matriarchal societies, and usually only one dominant female in the group births pups. 

Pups are born during the rainy season when food is plentiful. They subsist solely on milk for the first three weeks of their lives. Adult meerkats begin teaching baby meerkats what to eat and how to eat it as young as three weeks old. The adults bring whole prey to the burrow and let the babies snatch it from their mouths. Sometimes they even bring the babies live scorpions, minus the tails. 

Though the mother is the only one that provides milk for the pups, all the adults in the group help teach the babies to hunt and act as guards. 

meerkat_8
A Meerkat.
Ulrika / Creative Commons
Share this post on:
About the Author

Brandi is a professional writer by day and a fiction writer by night. Her nonfiction work focuses on animals, nature, and conservation. She holds degrees in English and Anthropology, and spends her free time writing horror, scifi, and fantasy stories.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.