Dr. Marta Manser crouches in the dry grass, watching a cat-sized meerkat meerkat: see mongoose.
Colonial species (Suricata suricatta) of the mongoose family (Herpestidae). It is a burrowing carnivore found in southwestern Africa that differs from mongooses in having four (rather than sniff for its breakfast. Suddenly, a high-pitched alarm call breaks the morning quiet: Hawk! The meerkat bounds toward a hiding hole, reaching it in seconds.
Dr. Manser traveled from the University of Zurich History
The University of Zurich was founded in 1833 with existing colleges of theology (founded by Huldrych Zwingli in 1525), law and medicine merged together with a new faculty of Philosophy. in Switzerland to South Africa's Kalahari Desert Kalahari Desert
Desert region, southern Africa. It covers an area of 360,000 sq mi (930,000 sq km) and lies mostly in Botswana but also occupies portions of Namibia and South Africa. It was crossed by the British explorers David Livingstone and William C. Oswell in 1849. to study how meerkats find their hiding places--and to learn about how animals think. Many animals show intelligence, from toolmaking The term toolmaking (sometimes styled as tool-making or tool making) may refer to:
The act of making tools of any kind, from the simplest handtools made of plant fiber or stone, to the most technologically advanced tools.to navigating long distances. Scientists want to
understand how these animals solve tricky problems.
"Meerkats are a great subject to study," Dr. Manser says. "The size of the meerkats and their small home range allow us to follow them easily on foot over the whole day."
The researchers couldn't always observe meerkats so closely. But over time, the animals got used to having people nearby. "It took a year," Dr. Manser says. "Wild meerkats typically run away when they see a person at a distance of a few hundred meters."
A meerkat is not a cat. It's related to the mongoose mongoose, name for a large number of small, carnivorous, terrestrial Old World mammals of the civet family. They are found in S Asia and in Africa, with one species extending into S Spain. . A meerkat's life depends on its ability to find shelter quickly. This animal spends five to eight hours daily searching for food such as insects, snakes, scorpions, and small mammals The class Mammalia (the Mammals) is divided into two subclasses based on reproductive techniques: egg laying mammals (the Monotremes); and mammals which give live birth. The latter subclass is divided into two infraclasses: pouched mammals (the marsupials); and the placental mammals. . During those hours, the meerkat can be attacked by hawks, jackals, or other predators. Meerkats live in groups and take turns acting as guards, standing on hind hind
1. emanating from or pertaining to hindlimb.
2. adult female deer, especially red and other large species.
a hind which has not borne young. legs and watching for danger.
Whenever a meerkat spots an enemy, it barks a rapid, peeping alarm. Then all the meerkats race to boltholes. These hiding holes were dug by meerkats, ground squirrels ground squirrel, name applied to certain terrestrial rodents of the squirrel family. In North America the name refers to members of the genus Citellus and sometimes to the closely related genera Tamias (chipmunk), Cynomys (prairie dog), and , or other burrowing animals. The meerkats' territory contains several thousand boltholes.
Dr. Manser wondered how meerkats find those boltholes. Do the animals make decisions based on what they see at the moment or on what they saw in the past few minutes? Or do meerkats remember where to find their holes? Only some clever experiments would lead to answers.
Do They Backtrack?
Once the researchers could follow within a few feet of the meerkats, they began to watch what meerkats did when they heard an alarm call. The research team's first question was, Do meerkats backtrack to the last hole they passed?
The team found that the meerkats almost always ran to the nearest bolthole bolt·hole
1. A hole through which to bolt: found a bolthole in the fencing.
2. A place affording escape: , just as you might run to the closest bathroom in your school instead of going back to the last one you passed.
The scientists had discovered that meerkats go to the best hiding spot, even if they haven't passed it recently. But how do they find it?
Sight or Memory?
Dr. Manser's next question was, Do meerkats find the closest hole by looking for Looking for
In the context of general equities, this describing a buy interest in which a dealer is asked to offer stock, often involving a capital commitment. Antithesis of in touch with. it?
The research team dug new boltholes. When a meerkat came near, the researchers played a recording of an alarm bark to make the meerkat run for shelter. If meerkats find boltholes by looking for them, they should have run to the new, easy-to-see holes.
But the meerkats ignored the new holes.
The research team had answered another question. Meerkats don't find boltholes by looking for them. In fact, they run to other boltholes, even if a new hole is closer.
If meerkats don't look around and don't backtrack to find boltholes, Dr. Manser wondered, do meerkats remember where the holes are, similar to the way you remember where the bathrooms are in your school?
To test this idea, the research team covered some holes with car mats and sand. When a meerkat approached, they played the recorded alarm bark and watched. The meerkats remembered where to find their holes.
"The meerkats, running over to the covered boltholes, stopped at the supposed entrance," Dr. Manser says. "Some of them immediately ran to the next bolthole, while others began to dig the sand out." One meerkat dug out so much sand searching for the lost hole that the mat fell in.
Now the team had yet another answer. Even though meerkats have several thousand boltholes, they remember exactly where the holes are.
Whay Are They Thinking?
Meerkats remember where to find their holes--but how? Maybe they follow specific routes in their search for food, allowing them to memorize mem·o·rize
tr.v. mem·o·rized, mem·o·riz·ing, mem·o·riz·es
1. To commit to memory; learn by heart.
2. Computer Science To store in memory: a few "snapshots" of the landscape that they can recognize later. Or maybe their thinking is more human-like. Maybe they make a mental map of their foraging area.
Only more study will tell. Dr. Manser doesn't mind. She loves studying meerkats.
"Some of the best moments are the early hours at their sleeping burrow when the sun rises," she says. "One after the other emerges from the burrow, some still totally sleepy sleepy
characterized by sleep.
sleepy foal disease
see hepatic encephalopathy. while others are already fully active, just as people differ in this way."
Soon, she'll be back at one of those burrows Burrows is a provincial electoral division in the Canadian province of Manitoba. It was created by redistribution in 1957, and formally came into existence in the provincial election of 1958. The riding is located in the northern part of Winnipeg. , ready to figure out more about how meerkats think.
Mere Facts on Meerkats
* are born in litters of 2 to 5
* weigh about an ounce
* Open their eyes when they are 10 to 14 days old
* weigh 1 1/2 to 2 pounds
* are 10 to 14 inches long (plus a 7--to 10-inch tail)