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For (Cute) Meerkats, Females Run the Show

Cute Animals

Not only are meerkats cute as the dickens. It turns out in the meerkat world, females run the show. Is there a lesson to be learned here?

Haiku for Meerkats

“No doubt, one is cute

But standing together, mobs

Melt the coldest hearts”

“No prettier or funnier little live toys could possibly be imagined.” That’s quite the praise from British writer Annie Martin, writing of meerkats in her 1890 book Home Life on an Ostrich Farm. She spent plenty of time with these slender, two-pound creatures found across southern Africa.

They hop around in “mobs” of 30 to 40 individuals. They have distinct personalities. They are highly social tasks. But most charming is when they simply stand. They jolt up on their hind legs, boasting impossibly good posture, arms limply dangling to either side. Their little masked eyes, resembling the Eye of Horus (the Egyptian symbol for protection), watch out for predators to avoid and scorpions to eat whole.

Cute, right? Not only are they cute, they also neatly follow this month’s theme. Turns out in the meerkat world, females run the show. A matriarch or dominant female runs each “mob.” She leads foraging trips, runs the reproductive schedule, appoints tasks, and settles disputes. It’s hard work, but important work. And much appreciated.

When a meerkat named Flower, the matriarch of the wildly popular television show Meerkat Manor, perished while protecting her little ones, a somber Sean Astin noted, “the desert has lost its favorite rose.” Sounds like Flower was a great leader. And a potential role model for all of us mammals in the animal kingdom, excluding the handful of species such as meerkats, orcas, lions, hyenas, lemurs and benobos—but notably not humans, at least not yet—where females often dominate leadership roles.