Meerkat Matriarchs Rule With Testosterone And Aggression, Study Finds

by : Shola Lee on :
Meerkat Matriarchs Rule With Testosterone And Aggression, Study FindsAlamy

According to a study from Duke University, North Carolina, meerkat societies crumble when aggression is taken away.

In news that will make you look at Alexander the meerkat differently, or at least his mother, aggression is key to meerkat society.


The study, led by professor Christine Drea, found that testosterone-fuelled aggression is crucial to the evolution of cooperation among meerkats.


At the head of meerkat society is the matriarch, who rules over other meerkats with her chosen mate. According to the study, her rule depends heavily on her high levels of testosterone.

Subordinate meerkats raise the matriarchs offspring, while the leaders of the group look for food and protect the young.


At this point you’re probably wondering, what about the subordinate meerkat’s pups?

Well, to ensure that her pups get undivided attention, the matriarch will often attack pregnant subordinates, banishing them from the group or killing their newborns.

The matriarchs also push, shove and bite other females to mark their territory.

Meerkat Pups 3Zoo Miami

This leads to fewer subordinate females having pups, meaning that the successful matriarch can have up to three or four litters a year.

Drea and the team of researchers studied 22 clans of meerkats for decades, tracking their testosterone levels across this time.

They noted that this success of the matriarch was in part hormonally driven, per EurekAlert.

The professor noted:


We always think of male competition being driven by testosterone, but here we’re showing that it’s driving female competition too.


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Drea went on to add that while ‘the subordinate females and their pups are also aggressive’ it is ‘not as much as the matriarchs and their pups’.

They continued to explain that it’s this difference that gives matriarchs their edge.

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Shola Lee

Shola Lee began her journalism career while studying for her undergraduate degree at Queen Mary, University of London and Columbia University in New York. She has written for the Columbia Spectator, QM Global Bloggers, CUB Magazine, UniDays, and Warner Brothers' Wizarding World Digital. Recently, Shola took part in the 2021 BAFTA Crew and BBC New Creatives programme before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news, trending stories, and features.

Topics: Animals, North Carolina, Now


  1. EurekAlert!

    Testosterone drives the dark side of meerkat success