Do you remember “Timon”?
The species I decided to write about is the Meerkat (like my user-name in wordpress). Meerkat is a small animal that lives in the Kalahari desert of Africa and the most famous Meerkat is “Timon”, from the animation movie: “The Lion King”. I simply adore this little creature because I find it extraordinarily cute and since everyone is familiar with one Meerkat (Timon) I decided to write about this species. The real reason however of this assignment in general is to get us familiarized with the terms we covered in class, like: “thermoregulation”, “endothermic animals”, “ecosystems”, “biomes” etc. Also, we are faced with the task to apply these terms on a real example of our own and this will help us understand the actual dimensions of such terms, what they mean for the living of a species as well as how these are defined.
As I mentioned earlier, the Meerkat is a small predator animal that belongs to the mongoose family and lives in the Kalahari desert of southern Africa. Their scientific name as species is “Suricata suricatta”, they live in Savanna biomes and are endemic (they live in particular areas and are not wide-spread). The geographical area in which they live is mainly Africa (in particular, the Kalahari desert) where the climate is mainly dry and with great temperature fluctuations. Meerkats are called “The Solar Panel of the Animal World” due to the way they use their dark-skinned, sparsely furred bellies to warm up.
Meerkats are small animals that live in the heart of Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. Their scientific name as species is “Suricata suricatta, Herpestidae” and they are small desert predators (their height is approximately 30cm (12 inches) and their weight is 0,9kgr (2 pounds)) which belong to the family of mongoose. As for their light-absorbency meerkats are called “The Solar Panel of the Animal World” due to the way they use their dark-skinned, sparsely furred bellies to warm up. ( Meerkat Information, Fellow Earthlings Wildlife Centre, 2010 ). The biome in which they live is a Savanna biome; merely defined by a grassy ground layer and a distinct upper layer of woody plants. Meerkats are found in the Kalahari desert of south Africa where the annual rainfall varies from 100mm to 500mm determining a considerable dry climate. Average winter temperature is 28°Celcius however, a maximum day temperature is 42°C under shade and can possibly reach 70°C on open sand (Climate of Kalahari Desert; Mean Annual Rainfall, 2010). High temperature fluctuations and scarce food and water availability are characteristics of the dryland ecosystems (of Savanna biomes) where meerkats live in. (Endemic Species of the Kalahari Desert , 2010). Meerkats are endemic species, meaning that they are found in particular regions (Kalahari desert), are not wide-spread and are of great conservation concern.
- Thermoregulation and mechanisms
Meerkats, ‘utilize a high proportion of behavioral thermoregulation”. From scientific research it was shown that sun plays a very important role in their body-temperature regulation (solar radiation) as well as: contact lying and “piloerection”.
“Piloerection” is a defensive mechanism mammals use to protect their bodies from extreme temperatures. It consist of a psychological reaction their nervous system that “causes certain muscles to contract and hair follicles to protrude outwards from the skin”. (D. Jeffress, 2010).
More precisely and under consideration of Schmidt-Nielsen’s equation we have the following:
Hs = Hm ± Hcd ± Hcv ± Hr – He
Meerkats as endothermic animals base their temperature regulation mostly on metabolic rate (Hm) similarly to humans. Increasing metabolic rate increases the rate at which meerkats generate metabolic Heat (a function of blood flow within the body). Piloerection is an example of mechanism meerkats use in order to generate metabolic heat. However, as I mentioned earlier, they also use other ways such as contact lying, which is a function of Conduction (Hcd) to maintain normal body temperature.
They consist of endothermic animals because thermoregulation is merely based on the function of their own bodies and metabolism. As Molles states “Thermoregulation outside the thermal neutral zone costs energy that could be otherwise dicected toward reproduction” (p.115). Concerning Meerkats, it was found that these animals utilize a high proportion of behavior to minimize energetic costs (Nogge, Gunther (Prof. Dr.),2010). Again that happens as a function of their body metabolism and the blood flow within their organisms and consists of another mechanism these animals use to thermoregulate.
The typical body temperature of meerkats is approximately: 36,3C and their basal metabolic rate is 1,7290 W. (metabolic rate per mass is: 0,002034 W/g):
Head and Body Length: 10-14 in (25-35 cm) females slightly larger than males
Tail Length: 7-10 in (17-25 cm)
Shoulder height: 6 inches (15 centimeters)
Weight: 1.3-2.1 lb (626-969 g)
Typical body temperature: 309ºK or 36.3ºC or 97.3ºF
Basal metabolic rate: 1.7290 W
Metabolic rate per body mass: 0.002034 W/g
Although their location is defined by very high temperatures, Meerkats are more sensitive to the cold rather than the warm climate and therefore they take advantage of the hot sun that helps them keep heat reservoirs within their bodies for the cold nights.
The Suricata suricatta is only active during day-time. Even during day however, when air temperature is extreme, these animals minimize their activity and find shelter in the burrows they make to protect themselves. (Meerkat, 2010)
Meerkats, being animals of the Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa, have the characteristic of a 40% lower metabolic rate in comparison to other animals in the rest parts of the world. This characteristic (of such a low metabolic rate) enables animals to survive with less food and water. The Kalahari Desert however, is not the most pleasant area for living since intense heat puts animals at risk of overheating. This makes the ability to efficiently regulate body temperature a necessity for the “Suricata suricatta”. In addition, body size is a benefit to the animals of Savanna biomes; the smaller the animal the faster the loss and gain of body heat.
Endemic Species of the Kalahari Desert. Convection on Biological Diversity. UNEP. Retrieved October 16, 2010 from http://www.cbd.int/programmes/outreach/awareness/kalahari.shtml
Meerkat Information. Fellow Earthlings’ Wildlife Center, Inc. Retrieved October 16, 2010 from http://www.fellowearthlings.org/info.html
Climate of Kalahari Desert; Mean Annual Rainfall. Kalahari. Retrieved October 16, 2010 from http://abbott-infotech.co.za/kalahari%20desert%20climate.html
Molles, M.C. (2010). Ecology. Concepts and Applications. 5th Ed. NY: McGraw-Hill.
D. Jeffress, (8 Sept 2010).What Is Piloerection. WiseGeek. Retrieved October 16, 2010 from http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-piloerection.htm
Nogge, Gunther (Prof. Dr.). Behavioural Cost Minimisation and Minimal Invasive Blood-Sampling in Meerkats (S. suricatta, Herpestidae). KUPS. Retrieved October 17, 2010 from http://kups.ub.uni-koeln.de/volltexte/2010/3166/
Meerkat. (23 Jan, 2010). Wiki. Retrieved October 17, 2010 from http://zookeepersjournal.com/wiki/index.php?title=Meerkat