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Feedback on Meerkats
By Vickie Chao
1 Out on the savannah of southern Africa lives a group of highly sociable animals called meerkats. Meerkats are extremely active during the day. Whenever they venture out of their underground hideaways, they like to stick close to each other, as they are firm believers of "safety in numbers." Even when they rush out to look for things to eat, they never fail to be on guard. To be sure that they themselves do not end up being some other animal's lunch, they always have at least one member standing upright on its hind legs and tail (the "third leg") to look out for danger. If it spots an enemy, it issues a screeching call to alert the group. Once the alarm is sounded, everyone dashes back home for cover. They do not come out again until the threat is gone.
2 Meerkats belong to the mongoose family. They measure about 24 inches long (nearly half of which is their thin, tapered tail) and weigh around one and one-half pounds. Their outfits are grayish brown, with several bands of dark stripes running across their backs. Their bellies have a sparse coating of white fur. Their front limbs are slender and have sharp claws, ideal for digging. Their faces are pointy. Their ears are crescent-shaped. And the dark patches around their big eyes make them look like they have just come out of a fist-fight! Interestingly, this rather comical appearance actually helps meerkats protect their vision from the intense glare of the sun. Thanks to their natural sunglasses, they can see predators (such as hawks, eagles, and jackals) by looking directly into the sun. Even more amazingly, meerkats have thin white membranes between their eyes and eyelids. Every time they blink, they use their membranes as wipers to remove sand from their eyes. Since they spend a lot of time underground, those membranes certainly come in very handy. Of course, during their daily excavation exercises, soil can get into more than just their eyes. It can get into their ears, too. To keep them clean, meerkats fold their ears as they get ready to dig. This particular feature, plus their blackened eyes and protective membranes, is a prime example of how adaptive meerkats are to their environment.
3 In general, meerkats are not picky eaters. They like to devour insects, spiders, scorpions, bulbs, and roots. Every morning when the sun comes up, they climb out of their burrows, sit on their hind legs, and sunbathe for a while. They like to do that especially after a cool desert night. Once they feel warm enough, they spring into action. Now "fully charged," it is high time for them to look for breakfast!
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