Can Meerkats Swim? Not Always [Explained]

Photo: Dave Colman / Shutterstock

Contrary to popular belief, meerkats aren’t cats at all. They’re members of the mongoose family that are somewhat similar to weasels.

They’re known for their upright stance, and with such balance and control over their bodies, it’s natural to wonder whether meerkats can swim.

Meerkats instinctively know how to swim, as do most mammals, but they rarely get the opportunity to do so. Meerkats live in dry settings like deserts and savannas and hardly ever make their homes near water. They get the hydration they need through their diet, travel by land, and groom each other without the use of water. 

Continue reading to learn about why meerkats are capable of swimming. You’ll also learn why it’s not necessary for meerkats to live near a water source, even though it would give them the chance to swim.

Are Meerkats Capable Of Swimming?

Like the vast majority of mammals, meerkats instinctively know how to swim. There are only a few exceptions to this rule, such as various types of apes

Meerkats and other terrestrial mammals (i.e. those that live on land) often use their front and back feet to paddle as they swim through the water.

However, it’s rare that a meerkat will have the opportunity to swim due to its desert habitat.

Physical Attributes

In general, mammals’ bodies, such as that of a meerkat, have an overall density that is in balance with the density of water. This gives them neutral to positive buoyancy, meaning that they are able to float. 

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Since meerkats can float, they don’t need their legs to support their body weight as they swim. Instead, they can use their legs to paddle and control the direction they move in the water.

Do Meerkats Need To Live Near Water?

Although all animals and other organisms require water for survival, meerkats don’t need to live near water and don’t often have the chance to swim.

The reasons for this have to do with their natural habitat, diet, daily habits, mode of travel, and grooming practices. 


Meerkats’ natural habitats include multiple kinds of dry, open areas such as deserts, savannas, and scrublands. One example is the Kalahari Desert. These environments are known for being dry and not having many water sources.

Meerkats usually live in places with large quantities of sandy soil. This is important for their intricate underground burrows, which have numerous tunnels leading to sleeping and toilet chambers.

Meerkat burrows have an average of 15 holes to serve as entrances and exits. The tunnels and chambers are located on multiple different levels, and some are as much as six and a half feet deep. 

These deep tunnels allow the meerkats a place of refuge away from the hot sun. They maintain a comfortable and constant temperature regardless of the weather outdoors.

This chance to escape from the heat means they don’t need as much water as you may expect. 

Even though meerkats are skilled diggers, the burrows they live in are sometimes dug by other kinds of animals, like ground squirrels.

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Every few months, meerkat mobs move to a new burrow. 


Meerkats can obtain all the moisture they need through their diet. They don’t need a water source like a lake or river to stay hydrated and healthy.

On occasion, if a mob of meerkats comes upon a spring or other water source, they will drink from it. They simply don’t need it to survive since their diet provides sufficient hydration.

Meerkats eat roots, succulent tubers, and tsamma melons (a type of watermelon) as part of their diet, and all of these offer moisture. They spend around five to eight hours each day foraging for food.

They consume lots of insects, which have a significant water content, including termites, beetles, caterpillars, scorpions, and spiders. Meerkats will also hunt rodents, small snakes, lizards, and birds.

After storms, meerkats emerge from their burrows to catch the insects that have gathered to feed on the plants that have just been watered. Meerkat pups also get hydration from their mothers’ milk.

Daily Habits

Meerkats are diurnal, so they are active during the day and sleep through the night.

In the daytime, their primary activities include basking in the sun, foraging, and grooming. Foraging and grooming both require the use of their strong foreclaws and teeth.

While meerkats certainly have the dexterity to swim, they more often use their paws and claws for digging and grooming other members of their gang. Their claws also make them proficient at climbing trees.


Meerkats travel by land instead of by water, so there’s no need for them to swim from place to place.

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They typically travel in large family groups called mobs or gangs that consist of as many as 40 meerkats, led by the alpha male and alpha female.


As mentioned above, grooming is one of the meerkats’ daily habits, but it doesn’t require any water.

Instead, meerkats use their sharp claws and teeth to groom each other. This is another reason why meerkats do not have to live near water. 

Main Takeaways

The majority of mammals instinctively know how to swim, and meerkats aren’t an exception to this rule. However, you’ll probably never see a meerkat swimming unless it’s in captivity; meerkats typically live in dry areas without any water in sight.

Even though meerkats don’t live near water, they find it easy to get sufficient hydration through the tubers and insects in their diet. They travel by land rather than swimming through water, and their daily habit of grooming doesn’t require any water, either–just their teeth and claws.

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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