Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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Contact: Science Press Package
American Association for the Advancement of Science

School's in for meerkats

OK, we know that it's the middle of summer and you don't want to think about school yet. But just think of how exciting school would be if one of your classes were all about catching scorpions! That's one of the things young meerkats learn from their teachers, say Alex Thornton and Katherine McAuliffe of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Believe it or not, kids like you are kind of lucky to have parents and teachers that can show them how to do things. Most animals don't have those kinds of teachers--or at least scientists haven't seen too many animal teachers in the wild. But the adult meerkats studied by Thornton and McAuliffe are definitely teachers. They show younger meerkat pups how to grab a bite to eat--really grab a bite, because meerkats eat things that are still alive and moving!

Older meerkat teachers bring things like grasshoppers back to their hungry pups so the pups can practice catching and eating the wriggly bugs. If a grasshopper jumps free, the teacher will push the bug back toward the pups so they can try again. Teacher meerkats even take the stingers off scorpions so that their students won't get stung during snack time.

Teaching pups is a hard job. Adult meerkats spend a lot of time chasing after food for their young, and that leaves less time for the adults to have their own snacks. But the pups get better at catching and eating as they grow up, thanks to their hard-working teachers, Thornton and McAuliffe say.


The meerkat study appears in the 14 July issue of the journal Science.