No, meerkats are not marsupials. They belong to the group of placental mammals of the order Carnivora, together with cats, mongooses, lions, tigers, bears, dogs, weasels, seals, and others.
On, the other hand, marsupials are animals that belong to the group called Marsupialia.
Meerkats are not considered marsupials since they do not carry their newborns in a pouch as most marsupials do. Also, unlike most marsupials, meerkats give birth to a fully developed baby.
These small Southern African animals can produce many offspring, giving birth from three to seven babies per litter. These newborns are called pups.
What Are Marsupials?
There are three types of mammals based on the way they reproduce: monotremes (mammals that lay eggs), marsupials (mammals that give birth to an early-stage fetus), and placentals (mammals that give birth to a fully developed fetus).
Marsupials are mammals that give birth to an altricial young to be nursed inside a pouch.
Altrical youngs are born prematurely in an undeveloped state and continue their development while attached to the nipples on the mother’s lower belly.
Meerkats are definitely not one of those animals!
The pouch – or marsupium, from which the group got its name – is a flap of skin covering the nipples.
Wombats and marsupial moles, species of burrowing marsupials, have backward-facing pouches so the dirt doesn’t get in as the animals dig. The pouch of a female koala opens to the side, while in water opossums both females and males have pouches.
Almost 70% of marsupials can be found in Australia and New Guinea; the rest are distributed throughout North, Central, and South America.
Some larger species of marsupials are the kangaroos, koalas, wombats, and wallabies, while the smaller ones include opossums, Tasmanian devils, and bandicoots.
The largest marsupial in the world is the red kangaroo, weighing up to 200 pounds – the baby kangaroo, called a joey, is just an inch long at birth and weighs only 0.035 oz!
Marsupials first evolved in South America about 100 million years ago, when South America, Australia, and Antarctica were a single continent.
How Do Meerkats Reproduce?
Unlike marsupials, meerkats have a placenta and do not carry their babies in a pouch. As members of the infraclass Placentalia, meerkats will develop a placenta during pregnancy that nourishes (via the umbilical cord) and protects the fetus while it grows inside the uterus.
When the more advanced stages are reached, a female meerkat will give birth. Once a pup is born and the umbilical cord is removed, the offspring will have a belly button scar (navel) on the belly.
Male and female meerkats become sexually mature around the age of one.
Although it might happen throughout the year, in the wild, meerkats mostly breed from August to March, when there’s a lot of food during the rainy season. To initiate mating, males will fight with the females, holding them by the snouts.
If the copulation is successful and after 60 to 70 days of pregnancy, females will give birth to 3-7 pups that weigh around 3.5 oz in the first couple of days.
They will stay in the den for around 2 weeks and begin foraging with adults after the 4th week.
Males and nonbreeding members of the group will help raise the pups.
Scientists recorded an interesting behavior – female helpers will give food more often to female pups than to male ones. Male helpers seemed unbiased and fed both sexes equally.
Humans, dogs, rabbits, elephants, lions, tigers, bears, lemurs, and many other animals are placental mammals. Nearly 95% of all modern mammal species belong to this group.
And as we mentioned before, marsupials are most diverse in Australia and New Guinea, where there are no placental mammals. That allowed them to thrive there and diversify into a variety of different species.
In places where marsupials and placental mammals developed alongside one another, placental mammals took over and proved to be the dominant ones.
In conclusion, meerkats are neither rodents nor marsupials.
These small African animals belong to the order of placental mammals called Carnivora.
Carnivores can be also divided into two groups: cat-like Feliformia and dog-like Caniformia.
The main difference between the two is the structure of the ear bones and some skull features.
The feliforms include meerkats, cats, hyenas, and civets, while the caniforms include dogs, bears, raccoons, weasels, and seals.
The main difference between meerkats and marsupials is that marsupials are placental mammals that do not give birth to an undeveloped baby and do not keep it in their pouches, as marsupials do.
If you were pondering on the question “are meerkats marsupials”, we hope this article removed all doubts. And if you enjoyed it, here are our other very popular reads: Examples of animals that closely resemble meerkats