COLOUR: Varies from silver-grey to greyish-brown with irregular brown or black bands across the back, from shoulders to base of the tail. Head and throat are often whitish with dark nose, ears and circles around the eyes. The tip of the tail is also dark.
GESTATION PERIOD: 11 weeks
POTENTIAL LONGEVITY: 12 – 13 years
MOST LIKE: The Banded Mongoose, which is also active by day. The suricate is smaller, the dark bands across its back are less distinct and its tail is short-haired and slender rather than bushy.
HABITAT: Arid, open country, including scrub, grassland and fynbos in the southwestern Cape.
Suricates are silver-brown with distinct darker mottling on the upperparts, which sometimes forms into transverse bars towards the rump. Their hindquarters are more stocky than their upper bodies, and they have rounded, broad heads, sharp, pointed muzzles and thin, tapering tails with dark tips. They have dark circles around their eyes, which tend to make their eyes look larger. They are diurnal, and sun themselves while constantly on the alert for predators. If the posted sentry lets out an alarm call (consisting of one sharp bark), then the pack will scuttle away to the safety of their burrows. The type of alarm call given varies depending on whether the attack is coming from the ground or the sky: for ground predators it is a staccato call; for an airborne attack the call is long and drawn out. Suricates constantly survey the sky and they can distinguish harmless birds from lethal ones.
Their main predators are large raptors such as martial eagles, although jackals are also a serious threat. Suricates will often share their burrows with yellow mongooses and ground squirrels although the suricates may drive the others away. Their main food is insects and reptiles such as geckos, but they also dig for scorpions and will take small snakes. Two to three young are born at a time.
The Suricate is an attractive member of the mongoose family, and is easily distinguishable largely due to its habit of perching upright on its haunches in front of its burrow, or on a rock or an anthill, using its tail for balance. They inhabit burrows, and are usually found in colonies of 2 – 30 individuals. They are vocal, and communicate with continuous murmurings: they also engage in mutual and self-grooming, and employ ‘division of labour’ amongst the colony: certain individuals are posted as sentries, others as babysitters, etc., and these duties are rotated among the pack.
WILDLIFE PARKS AND RESERVES WHERE THIS SPECIES IS FOUND:
• Central Kalahari Reserve
• Makgadikgadi Pan
• Namib-Naukluft Park
• Addo Elephant National Park
• Kalahari Gemsbok Park