Recognition of prey odor in wild meerkats
Although mongooses are well-known to use odor cues in social communication, whether they also use olfaction in foraging is unknown. In this study, I investigated the olfactory ability of wild meerkats to recognize prey items that vary in frequency in their diet. Meerkats aged from 28 days to 2 years were presented with cotton-buds scented with common prey (larvae), less-common prey (scorpions, crickets), non-prey (dung beetles) or a control (no scent). Biting behavior and time spent sniffing the cotton-bud were recorded. Meerkats bit cotton-buds that smelled of larvae more often than cotton-buds that smelled of non-prey or control. They bit cotton-buds that smelled of crickets or scorpions at an intermediate rate. Meerkats’ age and sex did not affect the response. Hence, meerkats can discriminate the odor of their prey from the odor of non-prey items, and tend to show preference for frequent prey over less-common prey. Furthermore, meerkats may use olfactory cues for short-distance detection of prey, but experiments are needed to determine the specific phases of the foraging process where olfaction is involved.
KeywordsMeerkat Prey Odor Foraging
I thank T. Clutton-Brock and M. Manser for providing access to the animals, and A. Szabo, N. Thavarajah, and J. Samson for their help in the field. I am grateful to the Kotze family and other farmers neighboring the Kuruman River Reserve for graciously allowing me to work on their land and to the Northern Cape for permission to conduct the research. All research protocols were approved by the University of Pretoria Ethics committee (Project No. EC011-10).
Compliance with ethical standards
This study was supported by a Fondation Fyssen postdoctoral grant. During the span of this study, the Kalahari Meerkat Project was financed by Cambridge, Zurich and Duke Universities (Duke’s contribution was through a National Science Foundation grant IOS-1021633 to Christine Drea). I relied on records of individual identities and/or life histories maintained by the Kalahari Meerkat Project, which has been supported by European Research Council Grant (No. 294494) to T. Clutton-Brock and Swiss National Science Foundation Grant (31003A_13676) to M. Manser.
Conflict of interest
The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.
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