Meerkat Challenge

Photo: Ashleigh Thompson
 (Creative Commons posted to by Snowmanradio)

Meerkats make some of the most appealing animal pictures. They cluster together to give wonderful group photos. They clearly form well knit groups with shared division of labor on such things as watching out for trouble while the rest go looking for food.

In their wild breeding colonies they have a clear hierarchy and like any successful group of animals, the colony doesn’t stay static. Some of the feisty young males disperse looking for excitement elsewhere. They have to do this because of the usual group dynamic of the older dominant males hogging the females.

These young guys can be innovative in many ways. Thornton and Samson have written up their study of meerkat innovation and this was featured in a BBC report (1) after appearing in J Animal Behaviour (2). The authors of the study took the meerkats favorite food (that is scorpions) and placed them in a container which was a puzzle to get into.

Young juvenile meerkats all rushed to try their luck but failed. The old guys were too busy with affairs of status, leaving the feisty young blades to solve the problem. Given multiple opportunities to puzzle out how to get a scorpion dinner, they managed to succeed many times.

However, their success didn’t come from learning about the complicated set up of the experimenters, but from dogged persistence. Maybe they had more time on their paws or maybe they were not quite ready to relax and enjoy the good life as they weren’t seeing too much of it thus far. Whatever, they appear to be the future of the meerkat groups as problem solvers for the next meerkat challenge.

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