Ahhh, “Meerkat Love.” Remember that hoary old song from the mid-1970s by that odd duo, Captain and Tennille? Yeah, I’m sorry to say that I remember it too. (A note to the unwary: I know that’s not the actual title of the song, but close enough for gubmint work, and as a “hook” for the purpose of this post, I think. Especially with Valentine’s Day upcoming, less than two weeks hence.)
As for Captain and Tenille, I have no idea why Daryl Dragon was impersonating some sort of military officer (CPT? Capt? CAPT? Lord, please don’t let me get it wrong; I don’t want to get in trouble with my military friends), when it appears that he came from a musical family, served no time in the armed services at all, and seems to have spent most of his life in one band after another, until landing Toni Tenille sometime in the early ’70s, and enjoying a pretty successful decade at the top of the pops.
I am wrong. Apparently, “Captain” is an honorific, bestowed on him by Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame, who called him “Captain Keyboard,” during his tenure with the group. Glad to have that sorted for myself, even at this late date.
No stolen valor here.
Not in a musical sense, anyway.
Back to the meerkats.
I’ve loved those little guys (and gals) for decades, ever since I saw a TV special about them, perhaps a National Geographic production, also probably in the 1970s or thereabouts. Even the origin of their name is fascinating. If it’s from the Dutch (which it may be, since the creatures’ range is largely southern Africa), then “meerkat” means “lake cat.” However, they’re not cats, and they inhabit the Kalahari and various other smaller deserts, so no water. “Mier” is an Afrikaans word meaning “termite”; therefore, “termite cats.” A bit closer, since 80 percent or so of their diets is composed of small insects, and they’re particularly fond of scavenging in termite mounds. But, still not cats. Then there’s the Sanskrit word which is written in the Roman alphabet as “merkata.” That means “monkey.” But that isn’t right either. Meerkats are neither monkey nor cats, but are actually mongooses/mongeese. So who knows? As many such things go, probably a combination of all of the above, and of people doing their best to identify a strange mammal that reminds them in size and behavior of both cats and small monkeys, and which eats bugs.
Meerkats weigh only a few pounds, and adults are about 15 inches long excluding their muscular tail, which adds another ten to their length. They live in packs called mobs, usually of a few dozen animals, and three or four mobs will often share a range. They’re social and highly interactive, although with a rigid social structure that limits reproduction to the dominant pair in the mob, and which results in adult death and infanticide, as adults jockey for position to enjoy the top spot, removing those who challenge them, and as any babies born to non-dominant females (who apparently haven’t heard about the pill) are rejected and either killed outright or left to die.
That’s the less charming aspect of their behavior. (We all have one. And some of us have more than one.) What we see on the “family-friendly” documentaries though are the lovely little creatures caring for each other, with both males and females babysitting the mob’s young. One after another takes turns to assume the characteristic “sentinel” pose, keeping watch over their fellow mobsters as they forage for food, and alerting them to predators.
They’re intriguing little animals. Some research indicates that their vicious strictures on, and control of, mob reproduction reduces inbreeding and keeps the genetic stock strong. Males and females who wish to become dominant generally have to leave the birth mob, find another (unrelated) one, and win the top spot there. Studies of the sentries watching over the group have revealed that meerkats have different “alarm” signals for airborne and terrestrial predators, and that their chirping and trilling escalates according to the urgency of the threat. There’s an organized and pre-determined response, based on the nature and threat level, and very often, all are kept safe.
Young meerkats are tended, not only by their parents, but also by submissive females who can lactate without gestating, and who feed them; and they are watched over by non-dominant males. The young are taught to hunt, and since scorpions are occasionally on the menu, they are taught how to kill them, when the adults bring live scorpions into the burrow for the kids to practice on. (Interestingly, the adults bite off the tails of the scorpions first, so that the children will not be stung to death.)
Here we are, less than two weeks from Valentines Day 2021 following a very difficult year. And so I’d like to offer an atypical suggestion for celebrating if you, like me, are up for a non-traditional and “freeing” festivity.
Here we go:
El Paso Zoo will name a cockroach after your ex and feed it to their meerkats:
Starting February 1 through February 12, people will have a chance to name a cockroach after an ex or someone who’s been “bugging” them on the Zoo’s website, and are encouraged, but not required, to donate while submitting a name.
Zookeepers will feed Madagascar hissing cockroaches to different zoo animals such as meerkats, birds, and primates throughout Valentine’s Day weekend, hoping to give everyone a shot at closure – with a dash of pettiness.
Donations collected will remain at the zoo for conservation efforts and to further the zoo’s mission statement. As a special incentive, El Paso Zoo Director Joe Montisano will eat a cockroach for every $1,000 dollars raised, as he did last year.
The page where you can participate if you’re so minded, is here: Quit Bugging Me.
The San Antonio Zoo has a similar, “Cry Me a Cockroach” program, details of which you can find here (also note the exciting herbivore option for those who are opposed to blood and guts).
A quick internet search will bring you to several similar endeavors, so please, have at it. Feed the beasties and help a good cause, while scoring some payback on them what done you wrong. Oh, and by the way, if you’re worried about feeding live creatures to the predators, don’t be. The sacrificial victims are already dead, and in fact, frozen. If you’re one of those
womyn people who believes that “revenge is a dish best served cold,” this gives a new meaning to the phrase. (Why didn’t I think of that sooner, myself? Freezer? Duh.)
If, like me, you generally shy away from spilling your guts about too-intimate matters online, or if you can’t quite bring yourself to “out” your mistakes so openly (my list is rather short, I assure you; I’ve led a sheltered and pretty blameless life, and I’d been married for almost 40 of my 65 years before I was widowed), just send an animal charity of your choice a small donation to show the love, and call it quits all round.
Wow. I feel so much better with all that off my chest.
Now. The final point of the post.
Who, among us, has eaten bugs? Or other bizarre, revolting, or just plain distasteful foods?
And in conclusion, a musical interlude. Happy upcoming Valentine’s Day to you and those you love: