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01/10/2016, 08:00

Meerkats revealed as most murderous mammal known to science

'It is surprising that animals like meerkats, marmots and ground squirrels have high levels of mortality' caused by their own species, scientist says

The meerkat – the beloved hero of an advert for car insurance – has been unmasked as the most "murderous" mammal known to science.

Researchers compiled a list of more than 1,000 mammals based on how many deaths were caused by members of the same species.

The meerkat had the highest rate with 19.4 per cent of all deaths the result of an attack by another meerkat, the academics reported in the journal Nature.

The carnivore, which lives in mobs of up to 50 mostly in the Kalahari and Namib deserts in southern Africa, is known for infanticide in particular.

It was closely followed by Schmidt's guenon, a type of monkey, (18.2 per cent) and the red-fronted lemur (16.7 per cent). Some of their close relations also had similarly high figures.

Others in the top 10 include the New Zealand sea lion (15.3 per cent), long-tailed marmot (14.5 per cent), lion (13.3 per cent), banded mongoose (13 per cent), grey wolf (12.8 per cent) and Chacma baboon (12.3 per cent) with the diademed sifaka and long-tailed chinchilla tied in 10th place on 12 per cent.

The lead author of the paper, Dr José María Gómez, of Granada University in Spain, told The Independent in an email: "It is surprising that a priori cute and pacific animals, like meerkats, marmots and ground squirrels, have high levels of mortality to conspecifics [members of the same species]."

The research was done to help scientists estimate the rate of intentional killing among humans when Homo sapiens first evolved and they put this at about two per cent. That was more than six times higher than the average among the 1,024 mammal species of just 0.3 per cent.

“Many primates exhibit high levels of intergroup aggression and infanticide,” the researchers wrote in Nature.

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