The Wildebeest's guide to South Africa

Is a Meerkat a Mongoose

Afrikaans name: Wat is die verskil tussen 'n Meerkat en Muishond

I was recently asked, “is a meerkat a mongoose?” It is an interesting question. We are all familiar with Meerkats and Mongooses and they are the same, but different.

If you look at any guide to the mammals of southern Africa, you will find a bunch of species of mongoose. Examples are Yellow Mongoose, Dwarf Mongoose, Large Grey Mongoose, Banded Mongoose and Slender Mongoose. Then you find the Meerkat, which is known as a Suricate in English. So why is it not a Suricate Mongoose?

Ain't I cute? A Meerkat keeping a look-out

Portrait of a Suricate / Meerkat

Photo © Steven Herbert

Welcome to the family

Meerkats do belong to the Mongoose family, or Herpestidae to be more scientifically correct. Animals in this family are described as “animals with a creeping way of walking.”

Members of the Mongoose family are either solitary or communal creatures. The Slender Mongoose are typically seen by themselves, but the Banded Mongoose is most often seen in large groups. The Meerkat is one of the communal species.

Slender Mongoose near Skukuza in Kruger National Park

Slender Mongoose

Photo © Steven Herbert

Mongoose vs Meerkat

Some of the mongooses are nocturnal while others are diurnal. Meerkats are diurnal. Mongooses are found in various shades of brown from fawn to dark brown. Meerkats are fawn in colour. Mongooses weigh between 500 grams to 4 kilograms. Meerkats weigh around 800 grams, so they fall into that range. Therefore, it is no surprise that a Meerkat is actually a mongoose.

Despite this, there are some differences. Mongooses tend to have broader faces and bushier tails. In a Meerkat colony only the alpha male and female breed. If another female has babies, then they may be killed and the mother evicted from the colony. An alpha male mongoose will mate with all available females.

TV stars

I think that the main difference between these animals is that Meerkats are fascinating and fun to watch. They seem to have personalities and have even become stars on TV! When visiting a game park and you come across a group of Meerkats then spend some time watching them. They don’t normally worry about you being around. Most species of mongoose will only be seen running across a road and disappearing into the grass.


List of South African Mammals

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