What If You Teach Like a Meerkat?

When it comes to meerkat education, it’s how they teach as much as what they teach that matters

Matthew Murrie
2 min readSep 25, 2021

Curious what you could learn about teaching from a meerkat? Get ready to go from What? to Wow! with this Curiosity-Based Thinking activity from What If Curiosity and The Screaming Hairy Armadillo!

What: Meerkats are masters at teaching their young, killer skills, like how to eat a scorpion without getting stung!

Who: It’s not just the parental units who teach meerkat pups the ways of killing and eating scorpions; older meerkats share the responsibility of raising the skilled scorpion hunters of the future.

When: When a meerkat pup fails at the task of killing a scorpion, other meerkats will nudge the scorpion back in the pup’s direction so it can keep developing by doing.

Where: Meerkats may have classes, but they don’t learn in schools; and they learn by doing: meerkats learn how to safely kill and eat scorpions… with live scorpions!

How: How can meerkat pups contend with poison-packing scorpions? Older meerkats present the pups with scorpions whose stingers they’ve bitten off!

Why: Why is meerkat teaching so special (beyond demonstrating the physical ability to safely bite the stinger off of live scorpions)? According to scientists studying them, meerkats go beyond the mere, “learn by observing” or “sink or swim” approaches to preparing their young: meerkats actually “teach” their young.

  • In defining “teaching,” the scientists studying the meerkats used the following criteria: “that an individual modifies its behaviour only in the presence of a naive observer, that the ‘teacher’ gets no benefit from its actions and in fact, may lose opportunities to forage itself, and that the ‘student’ learns more rapidly than it would have on its own.” (“Meerkats teach their young to hunt”)

Huh?: Did you know meerkats are miniature mongooses? The same mongooses that famously eat cobras… what is it about these animals that made them adapt to master such difficult situations in order to survive?

Wow!: Education is only one aspect of meerkat kinship and cooperation: meerkats also cooperate when hunting. While some of the community focuses purely on the hunt, others look to the skies so they can give out a cry at the sight of any bird of prey.

Bonus Question: How do meerkats use curiosity in how they teach and learn?

And what if you can also keep your curiosity about animals going with The Screaming Hairy Armadillo and its free Educator’s Guide!

Matthew Murrie

Author of The Book of What If…?, Founder of What If Curiosity, and Creator of Curiosity-Based Thinking and Curiosity-Based Learning, turning ideas into actions.