Matriarchal SocietyMeerkats live in matriarchal society, meaning that females have complete power over the groups, Which means that females choose their partners (eg, if a dominant male meerkat does not get acceptance by the dominant female as her partner, he will easily be deposed by any of the other males in the group because he will not be able to successfully breed within the group, as the result of the dominant female reserving all breeding rights to herself and so prevents any subordinate females from breeding).
Dominant females lead the groups out foraging, decide which direction and sleeping burrows to take. Dominant female meerkats are usually the mother of almost all the pups born in the group as she will reserve all breeding rights with exclusive access to her and will often kill any pups, born to subordinate females within the group, within their first twenty-four hours of life .
Meerkats are actually one of the most complex of animals, with sophisticated social structure of life which enables them to live in their environment. Meerkats social structure all begins with Dominance.Meerkat dominance is very complex compare to other social animals. Dominance in meerkats is not necessarily through heritage as primates, but through constant change of circumstantial change of daily life with vigilance to opportunity. This means that a meerkat cannot simply depend on birth to gain status in a group and rather it will normally come with maturity. Although sometimes dominance can be apparent from birth in meerkats especially with young pups, the pups belonging to the dominant female, become more dominant towards other pups in the group (if there are other pups in the group as any pups found in a group normally belong to the dominant female who often re-imposes this rule constantly). As meerkats of both genders mature, they will start to associate their stable way of living within a group with rank. Rank may change as the animal gets older and larger. Adult age in meerkats is a year old, but changes in status can occur earlier. Males at this age will instinctively start to assert their superiority to other smaller males by chin swiping, hip slamming (meerkat way of asserting their dominance) and females will start to do the same, that way on some occasions while looking at a meerkat group, one can see a meerkat chin swiping and hip slamming others and is a subordinate meerkat instead of the dominant individuals doing that role. Dominant individuals will assert their own dominance on these individuals to restore the balance of power and to make sure that they are fully aware who's the real dominant meerkat. Dominant females will evict older subordinate females (normally the oldest age for a subordinate female is three years old) before they grow big enough to overthrow them. Dominant males will attack subordinate males before they grow strong enough to overthrow them, but normally in case of male meerkats, subordinate males will leave the group without any fuss from the dominant male.
Female DominanceFemales don't necessarily inherit rank, even if born to the dominant, will always fall to a subordinate role in a group which involves countless submissions to the dominant female, babysitting pups belonging to the dominant and allo-lactating for the dominant's pups. When females get older (normally over a year old) they grow aspirations within the group. They will start to challenge each other for status, whether directly like growls to vicious fights or indirectly like hip slamming and stealing each others food like millipedes and scorpions. When an individual subordinate manages to dominate all the other subordinates in the group, she will start to progress further in her power quest and challenge the dominant. This will result in vicious fights and usually the heaviest and strongest individual wins.
If the subordinate does manage to overthrow the dominant, whether it happens to be her mother or sister, she will continue to attack the deposed leader and eventually the former dominant is evicted. The new dominant female will assert her position constantly and normally has very little difficulty in gaining acceptance from the rest of the meerkats in the group including the dominant. Since meerkats live in matriarchal society where females have complete power over the group, are dominant to all other individuals and choose their partners, the dominant male (if unrelated to her) will have to gain her acceptance, if not, he will easily be deposed by the other males in the group. If the resident dominant male is related to the new dominant female, he will most likely leave the the group. Newly dominant female meerkats show increasing amount of both estrogen and testosterone. This makes them particularly aggressive and very hierarchical. She may constantly attack her subordinate females to exert her new authority. She will start to breed and reproduce pups of her own, normally her very first successful breeding attempt in meerkats.
Death of a Dominant Female
When a dominant female meerkat dies, her daughters will start to compete for her position. All the subordinate females over a year old start to challenge each other for status. Normally the oldest female takes over dominance but this rule can change and its usually the most aggressive individual as well as heaviest and strongest wins dominance.
PregnancyFemale meerkats may be triggered to gain the dominant position if pregnancy is involved. Meerkats breed almost year round and normally time their birthing season during the rainy season where there is an abundance of food. In meerkats society, only the dominant female may breed and she often asserts this rule constantly and vigorously by attacking subordinates. Dominant meerkats may attack subordinates not only to exert their dominance, but also by preventing them from breeding. When subordinates females are attacked by the dominant, it decreases the estrogen in them and so reduces their chances of coming into oestrus and breeding and therefore the dominant will ensure her pups get the best start in life.
If there are is only one set of pups in a group, then all the attention that the adults bring including providing food and protection, will go to them. If subordinates females to produce litters, they will also want their own pups to survive, this circumstance will drive pregnant subordinate meerkats to kill any other pups born in the group, including the dominant's pups. Dominants will also kill pups born to subordinates for the exact same reason and if two litters are born in the group, most of the attention will go to the oldest litter and so pregnant meerkats kill each others pups to ensure their own unborn pups future. Pregnancy also triggers aggression in female meerkats and so increases the demands of dominance. Even subordinates will not submit to the dominant when pregnant and which will lead to dominance fights and may result in dominants being overthrown and evicted or subordinates being evicted permanently.
Male dominance in meerkats may not be a power vicious and tight as female meerkats but can be just as aggression driven. Males usually originate from other mobs.When a male meerkat enters a new group he will take the subordinate role, unless if there is no apparent dominant male then the new comer easily takes dominance. Dominance in home-born males (males born within a group) comes with age and size. As they mature the males will start to assert their dominance with increasing boldness. As they grow bigger, instinct will lead them into challenging the dominant male, whether it happens to be his father or brothers. If the dominant male is deposed, he may still be allowed to stay in the group, but may be frequently bullied by the new dominant male.
Death of a Dominant Female
When a dominant female dies, the dominant male will lack breeding opportunities within the group as usually, most of the other females are his daughters. This predicament will force him to leave the group and rove to other groups for new mating opportunities. The resident subordinate males will fight vigorously for the dominant position and normally the strongest and aggressive (not necessarily the oldest) eventually wins dominance.
Immigration of New Males
If a group of roving males from other groups enters the group, the chances of the dominant male being deposed rise along with the number of immigrants. The new males are usually all unrelated to the females within the group and could all be potential mates and dominant males.
The dominant male may try to exert his dominance over the new comers, but usually the new males are not as submissive as the resident subordinate males and will challenge him for his position driven by the instinct to mate. In these predicaments and events, the dominant male is usually eventually deposed and one of the new dominant males takes charge of the group.
Natal Dominant Males
Usually after the dominant female dies, a long-term where most of the mob is her children,the father of the pups will leave to rove or may stay in the group to help his daughter, the new dominant female out. If the former dominant male leaves the group, then usually the oldest and strongest male will take dominance, usually the new dominant female’s brother or cousin. He cannot mate with the dominant female, being related to her and he may rove often at other groups. Roving natal males are good for the group, because in their absent, maybe an unrelated male will join the group and become the new dominant male. The natal males often rove in groups or five or more which gives them more success in joining another group. If no new unrelated male joins the group when the former natal dominant male leaves, than a new natal dominant male will take dominance till he to leaves to rove and hopefully joins another group. Once most of the oldest males leave, new males from other groups have a better chance at joining the group and taking dominance.
Very rarely do natal males over throw another natal dominant male, but in some cases, with a very aggressive male, he may over throw the already natal dominant male and take his place. Females don't take part in these male problems and are rather happy with who ever takes natal dominance of the group. Hopefully the males leave soon so she can attract a new mate. It can take up to two or three years for a new unrelated male to join the group and take dominance, or longer it the dominant male no longer roves to to old age.
Roving is usually done by males, who have to leave their birth mob, since all the females are related to them, and find new groups to join.
Male RoversMales start to rove around a year to two years old. The oldest males rove more than younger ones. The more a male roves the less he is likley to help take care of the pups at his birth mob. Males usually rove alone or in pairs. Only large groups have a better chance at joining a new mob. The oldest male leads the roving collation and if that group joins a new mob, he will most likely take dominance. Males usually stay in their birth mob for two to four years before they finally are about to join another group. Rarely does one singal rover join a large group. Smaller groups are easier to join becuase most of the males had already left to rove leaving only females. Not all rovers join groups however. Most roving trips only in faillar or the rover only get to mate with one female. The father of the pups also somehow, by instinct, knows not to mate with their daughters in other groups, if his pups do survive to adulthood. Females also know who their brothers are, in case one is adopted by another group or joins another group before she was born will not male with him. Instead the male will find himself rejected. Males who do join another group never rover at their former birth group but instead rove at groups nearby, even if some of the members are related to them. Mating with nieces often happens with rovers, if they are his brother’s or sister daughter who had formed or joined a new group.
Femaleroving is very rare. Most often they were evicted from their group and had wondered to another where they may try to get a male to mate with them. Females do this in hopes of joining or even starting a new group with males from another. Females don't rove on their own but usually have to be forced to be being evicted from their group. If more then one female was evicted they may even join other groups which is even rarer. Female, like males, can only join other groups if there are very few females in the new group. They most often kick out all female over a year old. Like males, it is most likely the oldest female who will take dominance.