According to scientists, meerkats can identify one another by voice alone, matching the way humans recognise familiar tones.
The animals, made famous by the talking meerkats in commercials for insurance price-checking website Comparethemarket.com, may be the only non-primate species to have developed this ability.
Researchers recorded a range of meerkat vocal sounds and played them to wild meerkats in the Kalahari Desert in South Africa.
In one scenario, the same meerkat voice could be heard through separate speakers on both sides of the animal at the same time.
The meerkats in the study gave a stronger reaction when they heard the same voice apparently coming from two directions at the same time – suggesting they realised this should not be possible.
In the other, a different meerkat voice was played on each side.
Dr Simon Townsend, of the University of Zurich, said: ‘This is the first experimental demonstration of vocal individual recognition, under natural settings, in a species other than primates.‘
Meerkats live in clans of up to 50 and, like humans, are regularly exposed to social challenges including aggression, competition for dominance and co-ordination of co-operative behaviours.