Spatial representation of shelter locations in meerkats, Suricata suricatta

M B Manser, M B Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We used observations and manipulation experiments to investigate how meerkats, social mongooses living under high predation pressure, find shelter from predators quickly within their territory. We played back alarm calls to foraging meerkats and dug new boltholes and covered existing ones to see whether location or other cues were used. Meerkats almost always ran to the bolthole closest to them. This was not done by a simple rule of running back to a bolthole they had just passed, nor by escaping in any direction and finding a bolthole by chance. Meerkats nearly always ignored the boltholes that we dug but ran to those we had covered up. Our results support the hypothesis that meerkats know in which direction to run when an alarm call is given, without scanning the area for visual or olfactory cues of shelters. As meerkats have more than 1000 boltholes in their territory, our results suggest that they have detailed knowledge of the direction and the distance of specific locations. However,, this does not necessarily mean that,they have a spatial map of their territory; our results may be explained by place recognition or reorientation of specific landmark features. (C) 2004 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-157
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2004


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