Meerkats, also called suricates, have the long body and short legs characteristic of most mongooses. The body length is from ten to thirteen inches, and the tail adds an additional seven to nine inches in length. The short fur of the meerkat is grayish-brown to light gray in color, featuring dark stripes across the back. The eyes and nose are dark and form a contrast with the light-colored head and throat. The belly fur of the meerkat is rather thin, which helps to regulate the animal's body temperature. To warm up, the animal will bask in the sun while sitting up or lie belly-down on warm earth, and to relieve itself from the hot desert sun, a meerkat will lie bellydown in a cool, shaded area or inside its burrow. Meerkats are desert creatures, primarily inhabiting the Kalahari and Namib deserts and other dry, open areas of southern Africa. One of the most notable characteristics of meerkats is their extreme gregariousness. They typically live in family units of up to thirty individuals. The colony of animals occupies a home territory, and digs several systems of burrows with multiple entrances connected by tunnels and a number of distinct chambers. The colony moves several times during a year as food becomes depleted, and establishes a new system of burrows or occupies those left from a previous occupation by the group.
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