Meerkat vs. Mongoose

What's the Difference?

Meerkats and mongooses are both small mammals that belong to the same family, Herpestidae. However, they have distinct differences in their physical characteristics and behavior. Meerkats are known for their slender bodies, long tails, and distinctive dark patches around their eyes. They are highly social animals, living in large groups called mobs, and are known for their cooperative behavior, such as taking turns to stand guard and forage for food. On the other hand, mongooses have a more robust build, with a bushy tail and a pointed snout. They are solitary animals, although some species may form pairs or small family groups. Mongooses are known for their agility and speed, as well as their ability to hunt venomous snakes. Overall, while both meerkats and mongooses are fascinating creatures, their differences in physical appearance and social behavior set them apart.


Photo by Dan Dennis on Unsplash
Scientific NameSuricata suricattaHerpestidae
Native toAfricaAfrica, Asia, Europe
SizeSmallSmall to medium
Weight0.6 - 0.9 kg0.3 - 5 kg
ColorLight brown to grayVaries (brown, gray, yellow, etc.)
BehaviorHighly social, lives in groups called mobsSolitary or lives in small groups
DietOmnivorous (insects, small vertebrates, plants)Omnivorous (insects, small mammals, birds, fruits)
HabitatGrasslands, deserts, savannasVarious habitats (forests, grasslands, scrublands)
LifespanUp to 14 yearsUp to 12 years
Photo by Dušan veverkolog on Unsplash

Further Detail


Meerkats and mongooses are both fascinating creatures that belong to the same family, Herpestidae. While they share some similarities, they also have distinct attributes that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of meerkats and mongooses, including their physical appearance, habitat, behavior, diet, and social structure.

Physical Appearance

Meerkats are small mammals, measuring around 10 to 14 inches in length, with an additional 7 to 10 inches for their tail. They have a slender body, short legs, and a pointed snout. Their fur is sandy or light brown, with dark patches around their eyes. On the other hand, mongooses are slightly larger, ranging from 12 to 24 inches in length, excluding their tail, which can add another 7 to 23 inches. Mongooses have a more robust build, with a long, tapering tail. Their fur coloration varies depending on the species, but it commonly includes shades of brown, gray, or yellow.


Meerkats are primarily found in the arid regions of southern Africa, such as the Kalahari Desert. They inhabit open grasslands, scrublands, and deserts, where they dig complex burrow systems for shelter and protection. On the other hand, mongooses have a more extensive distribution, inhabiting various habitats across Africa, Asia, and southern Europe. They can be found in forests, savannas, grasslands, and even urban areas. Mongooses are highly adaptable and can thrive in different environments, including deserts, mountains, and coastal regions.


Both meerkats and mongooses are diurnal animals, meaning they are active during the day. Meerkats are highly social creatures, living in large groups called mobs or clans. They exhibit cooperative behavior, with individuals taking turns to act as sentinels, watching for predators while others forage for food. Meerkats also engage in grooming and play, which helps strengthen social bonds within the group. Mongooses, on the other hand, are generally more solitary or live in small family groups. They are known for their agility and speed, often seen darting through underbrush or climbing trees. Mongooses are also excellent swimmers and can dive into water to catch prey.


Meerkats are omnivorous, with their diet consisting of a wide range of foods. They primarily feed on insects, such as beetles, spiders, scorpions, and termites. Additionally, meerkats consume small vertebrates like lizards, snakes, and birds, as well as plant matter and fruits. Mongooses, on the other hand, have a more varied diet. They are opportunistic feeders and consume a mix of insects, small mammals, birds, reptiles, eggs, fruits, and even carrion. Some mongoose species, like the Egyptian mongoose, are known for their ability to take on venomous snakes, making them valuable in controlling snake populations in certain regions.

Social Structure

As mentioned earlier, meerkats are highly social animals, living in large groups. These groups can consist of up to 40 individuals, with a dominant breeding pair leading the mob. Meerkat mobs have a complex social structure, with individuals having specific roles and responsibilities within the group. The dominant female is the primary breeder, while other members assist in raising the young and protecting the burrow. In contrast, mongooses typically live in smaller family groups, consisting of a breeding pair and their offspring. However, some mongoose species, like the banded mongoose, form larger social groups called packs, which can include multiple breeding females.


Meerkats and mongooses, despite belonging to the same family, exhibit distinct attributes that make them unique. Meerkats are smaller, highly social creatures found in arid regions of southern Africa, while mongooses have a broader distribution and are more adaptable to various habitats. Meerkats live in large groups, displaying cooperative behavior, while mongooses are generally more solitary or live in small family groups. Their diets also differ, with meerkats primarily feeding on insects and small vertebrates, while mongooses have a more varied diet, including snakes. Understanding the characteristics of these fascinating animals helps us appreciate the diversity of life on our planet.

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