Badgers

Badgers are sturdy, strongly built mustelids which are primarily found in the Northern Hemisphere, but also have species populating South Africa and Indonesia. All extant species live in burrows called setts, though their usage differs between species with some living in family groups and others living predominantly solitary lives.

Badger species often have strong forelimbs suited for digging, with long curved claws ideal for breaking up dirt. They are predominantly nocturnal, and come out during the night to feed on a variety of different food sources, such as worms, grubs, small mammals, reptiles and birds; also feeding on berries, roots and fruit.

One feature that is found in all species of badger is distinct facial markings—darker colours contrasting with light. This is the feature which gave rise to a now old-fashioned name for badgers—Bauson, which is a variation on the word Bausond, which refers to piebald markings, whilst also being used to describe a badger’s face.

It may come as a surprise for many that both the American badger (Taxidea taxus) and honey badger (Mellivora capensis) are not true badgers—that is, they are not directly related to the Eurasian badger (Meles meles). They are in fact living fossil species. They are basal, meaning they branched off from the rest of the mustelids the earliest and retain ancestral features that most other mustelids lack.

#1 Asian Badger (Meles leucurus)

Photo by David Blank

The Asian badger, also known as the sand badger, is a species native throughout Asia and eastern Europe.

Appearance

Asian badgers are the smallest of the three Meles species. They are superficially similar to the Eurasian badger, but exhibit an overall lighter, grayish-silver colouration. Their facial markings also differ slightly, with brown to black facial stripes going over the ears instead of joining up with the ear like the Eurasian badger. Asian badgers from Mongolia tend to have a lighter coat, while those from the Amur region are noticeably darker in colour.(1)

Habitat

The Asian badger prefers temperate regions such as forests, but they can also be found in mountainous regions, semi-deserts and tundra habitats.(2)

Behaviour

Asian badgers are generally a nocturnal species, living in communal setts made up of family groups with some solitary individuals in areas with food scarcity.(3)(4) They tend to hibernate in family groups; with the adults sharing dens with cubs born during the previous year. Yearlings and older single badgers will occupy individual dens.(2)

Reproduction

M. leucurus can mate year-around. Likewise, fertilization can occur at any time, with cubs primarily being born between mid-January and mid-March. Asian badgers experience a prolonged period of delayed implantation; a reproductive strategy shared by most mustelids.(5)(6)

Diet

The species feeds on a large variety of small animals such as insects, worms, reptiles, amphibians and birds whilst also feeding on plant material, nuts and berries.(5)(7)

Predators

Adult Asian badgers are not known to have predators, but their cubs can fall prey to lynxes, wolves, and wolverines, where their ranges overlap.(5)

Relationship with humans

Unfortunately these badgers do come into conflict with humans, and there is evidence of them preying on livestock and damaging vineyards, which can lead them to being hunted in some of their territories.(2) Their population numbers do not appear to have been affected too detrimentally by this.

Geographic range

Body length: 50–70 cm / 20–28 in
Weight: 3.5–9 kg / 7.7–19.8 lb
Lifespan: Unknown (wild), unknown (captivity)
Range: Southern portions of Russia and east of the Urals, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China, and Korea.
Conservation status: Least concern
Subfamily: Melinae
Recognised subspecies(8)

  1. M. l. amurensis
  2. M. l. arenarius
  3. M. l. leucurus
  4. M. l. sibiricus
  5. M. l. tianschanensis
References
  1. Heptner, V. G.; Sludskii, A. A. (2002). “Mammals of the Soviet Union”. Vol. II, part 1b, Carnivores (Mustelidae). Washington, D.C. : Smithsonian Institution Libraries and National Science Foundation. p. 1251. ISBN: 90-04-08876-8.
  2. Ognev, S. 1962. “Mammals of Eastern Europe and Northern Asia”. Jerusalem: Published by the National Science Foundation, Washington D.C., by the Israel Program for Scientific Translations.
  3. Heptner, V., N. Naumov. 1967. “Mammals of the Soviet Union”. Moscow: Vysshaya Shkola Publishers.
  4. Wilson, D., R. Mittermeier. 2009. “Handbook of the Mammals of the World”. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.
  5. Oldham, C. 2014. Meles leucurus (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed September 09, 2020.
  6. Mead, R. A. “Delayed implantation in mustelids, with special emphasis on the spotted skunk”. Journal of reproduction and fertility. Supplement 29 (1981): 11-24.
  7. Murdoch, J., S. Buyandelger. 2010. “An account of badger diet in an arid steppe region of Mongolia”. Journal of Arid Environments, 74: 1348-1350.
  8. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Meles leucurus in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.

#2 Eurasian Badger (Meles meles)

Photo by Kallerna

The Eurasian badger, also known as the European badger, is a species which inhabits a wide range across Europe, with populations that also extends across parts of western Asia.(1)

Appearance

Eurasian badgers are bulky, heavily built animals who spend a lot of time in and around the setts they create. With strong forelimbs and long curved claws adept for digging and maintaining setts. These badgers are easy to identify with their pale faces coupled with striking black markings running from their nose, across their eyes and ending behind each ear.(2) Their hind feet are plantigrade and their hind claws wear short as they age.(3) They also have flexible robust snouts used for probing and digging which aids in their search for food.

Habitat

The Eurasian badger is found in a wide range of different environments, such as woodlands, grasslands, hedges, riversides and agricultural land; as well as steppes and semi-deserts in some regions.(2) Their territorial ranges vary in size and are greatly dependent on food availability, as well as the size and quality of the sett. In optimal conditions, the size of these territories can be as small as 30 hectares (74 acres), to as large as 150 hectares (371 acres).  The presence of communal latrines and well-worn paths are key signs of a Eurasian badger’s territory.(4)

Behaviour

The Eurasian badger has been described as the most social of badgers,(5) forming groups of six adults on average. Although they are sociable and generally tolerant of other badgers both in and outside their group, males will occasionally have territorial aggression; with sparring occurring during the breeding season. Boars (males) tend to mark their territories more than sows (females), with their territorial activity increasing during the mating season in early spring.(6)

Reproduction

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Diet

The Eurasian badger’s diet is omnivorous and highly adaptable and dependent on what is available. Earthworms seem to be a staple of their diet, but they also consume insects, carrion, fruit and small mammals. They are also known to attack wasp nests—consuming the wasps along with their nest structures while being protected with their dense coarse fur and thick skin. If food is scarce, the Eurasian badger will often cover larger distances in search of food, and can come into conflict with other badger groups competing over food sources.(2)

Predators

Adult Eurasian badgers are not known to have natural predators, but their young may occasionally fall prey to lynxes, wolves, and bears where their geographical ranges overlap.(2) Golden eagles have also been seen to prey upon young badgers given the opportunity.(7)

Badger culling

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Interactions with other animals

While it would seem most Eurasian badgers stick to interacting with their family groups, there are cases of badgers living alongside foxes in their setts, with even accounts of foxes sharing food scraps with the badgers. This however is not always the case as foxes and badgers can come into conflict as well over food sources.(8)

Wild Eurasian badgers are not known to attack humans

Unless injured or trapped, a Eurasian badger will not go out of its way to randomly “attack” a human. Some people would argue: “What about that badger attack in 2003?”. Well, this is unfortunately another one of those cases where most people are not getting the full story, or understand isolated incidents do not represent the whole.

The Boris story

On the 13 May 2003, a Eurasian badger named Boris went about biting five people in a span of two days in the Worcestershire town of Evesham, before being caught by the Worcestershire Badger Society and later put down by a vet. The one-year-old badger had been hand-reared before he was takin in by Vale Wildlife Rescue. The staff claimed that the badger never displayed any signs of aggression prior to the event. Boris was stolen from the centre a week before the rampage. Eurasian badger experts claim that the attacks were “uncharacteristic” of a wild badger. They believe Boris was inappropriately hand-reared before being takin in by the centre and had too much contact with humans; which caused him to lose his natural fear of people. After Boris was stolen, he was left in a strange environment, alone and frightened, and this is what presumably led to the unfortunate event.(9)(10)(11)

Geographic range

Body length: 60–90 cm / 24–35 in
Tail length: 12–24 cm / 4.7–9.4 in
Weight: 7–13 kg / 15–29 lb (in summer), 15–17 kg / 33–37 lb (in autumn)(12)
Lifespan: Up to 14 years (wild), up to 19 years (captivity)
Range: Europe and western Asia.
Conservation status: Least concern
Subfamily: Melinae
Recognised subspecies(13)

  1. M. m. arcalus
  2. M. m. canescens
  3. M. m. heptneri
  4. M. m. marianensis
  5. M. m. meles
  6. M. m. milleri
  7. M. m. rhodius
  8. M. m. severzovi
References
  1. Kranz, A.; Abramov, A. V.; Herrero, J. & Maran, T. (2016). “Meles meles”. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2016: e.T29673A45203002.
  2. Wang, A. 2011. Meles meles (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 20, 2020.
  3. Raichev, E. (2010). “Adaptability to locomotion in snow conditions of fox, gackal, wild cat, badger in the region of Sredna Gora, Bulgaria”. Trakia Journal of Sciences. 8 (2): 499–505.
  4. Schmid, T. K.; Roper, T. J.; Christian, S. E.; Ostler, J.; Conradt, L. & Butler, J. (1993). “Territorial marking with faeces in badgers (Meles meles): a comparison of boundary and hinterland latrine use”. Behaviour. 127 (3–4): 289––307. doi:10.1163/156853993X00074.S2CID22043004.
  5. Macdonald, D. (2001). “The New Encyclopedia of Mammals”. ISBN 0-19-850823-9.
  6. Harris, Stephen, and Derek William Yalden Yalden, eds. “Mammals of the British Isles: handbook”. Mammal society, 2008.
  7. Watson, J. (2010). The golden eagle. Poyser Monographs; A&C Black. p 413.
  8. Dale, Thomas Francis, The fox, Longmans, Green, and Co., 1906.
  9. Worcester News. 13 May 2003. Stolen Boris pays final price. Accessed 31 January 2021.
  10. Staff and agencies. The Guardian. 13 May 2003. Five injured in a right sett-to. Accessed 31 January 2021.
  11. Helen Carter. The Guardian. 13 May 2003. Rampaging badger’s reign of terror. Accessed 31 January 2021.
  12. Heptner, V. G.; Sludskii, A. A. (2002). “Mammals of the Soviet Union”. Vol. II, part 1b, Carnivores (Mustelidae). Washington, D.C. : Smithsonian Institution Libraries and National Science Foundation. pp. 1241–1242
  13. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Meles meles in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.

#3 Greater Hog Badger (Arctonyx collaris)

Photo by David Cook
Alternate photo: Link

The greater hog badger, also simply known as the hog badger, is a terrestrial mustelid native to southeast Asia, starting from Sikkim and northeastern China to Thailand.

Appearance

At first glance, greater hog badgers may look similar to Eurasian badgers, but they are generally smaller, have larger front claws, and a pig-like snout that is pink in colour, rather than black or grey. Another distinguishing characteristic is that they have light-coloured claws, as opposed to the dark claws associated with Eurasian badgers. They also have modified teeth which point forward that are specifically used for turning over soil. Their fur is medium in length, and ranges from dark grey to brown in colour, with a tail that ranges from white to pale yellow. Greater hog badgers have two black stripes on a white face, with a white throat and stocky body.(1)(2)(3)

Habitat

Greater hog badgers dwell in grasslands, hills, mountains, tropical rainforests, tropical evergreen, and semi-evergreen forests.(1)(3)

Behaviour

They are solitary animals that are described as diurnal, ground-dwelling and not prone to shyness.(4) Using their long claws, incisors, and canine teeth of their lower jaws, they will burrow into the ground in search of food or create a habitat.(3)

Reproduction

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Diet

Greater hog badgers are omnivorous, and depending on what is available, their diet can consist of worms, fruits, roots, tubers and small animals.(1)(2)(3)

Predators

Since they are quite skilled at digging their way out of trouble, tigers and leopards are their only known predators.(3)

Threats

Tigers and leopards are the only known natural predators of the greater hog badger. To escape danger when threatened, they can use their large claws to burrow out of sight.(1) Other threats include being heavily hunted in some areas for either food purposes or trade. This has contributed to their decreasing numbers. Greater hog badgers are protected animals in Thailand and India.(4)

Geographic range

Body length: 55–70 cm / 22–28 in
Tail length: 12–17 cm / 4.7–6.7 in
Weight: 7–14 kg / 15–31 lb
Lifespan: Unknown (wild) up to 15 years (captivity)
Range: Central and Southeast Asia.
Conservation status: Vulnerable
Subfamily: Melinae
Recognised subspecies(5)(6)

  1. A. c. collaris — Greater hog badger.
  2. A. c. albogularis — Northern hog badger, Classified as a distinct species by the IUCN.
  3. A. c. consul — Burmese hog badger.
  4. A. c. dictator — Indochinese hog badger.
  5. A. c. hoevenii — Sumatran hog badger, Classified as a distinct species by the IUCN.
  6. A. c. leucolaemus — Chinese hog badger.
References
  1. Edmunds, T. 2003. “Encyclopedia of Life” (On-line). Arctonyx collaris. Accessed 18 March, 2020 at http://eol.org/pages/328030/details.
  2. Baker, N. 2012. Ecology Asia (On-line). Mammals of Southeast Asia: Hog Badger. Accessed 18 March 2020.
  3. Toben, J. 2013. Arctonyx collaris (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 20, 2020.
  4. Duckworth, J.W., Timmins, R., Chutipong, W., Gray, T.N.E., Long, B., Helgen, K., Rahman, H., Choudhury, A. & Willcox, D.H.A. 2016. Arctonyx collaris The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T70205537A45209459. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T70205537A45209459.en. Downloaded on 18 March 2020.
  5. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Arctonyx collaris in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.
  6. Animal Spot. Hog Badger. Accessed 09 February 2021.

#4 Japanese Badger (Meles anakuma)

Photo by Nzrst1jx

The Japanese badger, known in Japanese as anaguma (穴熊) which means “hole-bear”, is a species of badger unique to Japan. This species is found in Honshū, Kyūshū, Shikoku and Shōdoshima, notably being absent from Hokkaidō.(1)

Appearance

Japanese badgers are physically similar to Eurasian badgers with exception to their pelt color, with their dark brown fur and their pale faces contrasting with dark eye markings. This badger’s eye markings in particular are unique as they fade off before they reach the snout or ears, giving them a panda-like appearance.(1)

Habitat

The habitats of the Japanese badger consists of deciduous woods, mixed woodland and copses. This species of badger is also sometimes found in suburban areas as well as agricultural land. Hills and slopes are a preferred habitat for their dens, as gravity can aid in the digging of setts and increased drainage can help prevent setts from flooding.(1)

Behaviour

Japanese badger social behaviour differs from the Eurasian badger in that they live predominantly solitary lives, with males only interacting with females to mate and play no role in rearing the young.(2) They do however still have nocturnal habits, staying underground in lone setts during the day and coming out to forage at night. These badgers can have many setts within their territories, males tending to have 32 to 71 and females having 20 to 41. They mark these setts with subcaudal gland secretions to mark their territory.(1)

Reproduction

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Diet

The Japanese badger primarily feeds on earthworms, but will also consume berries and beetles in the summer months. Within a Tōkyō suburb called Hinode, badgers are also known to switch from eating earthworms to eating persimmons (a type of fruit) during the autumn.(2)

Predators

Predators of M. anakuma include wolves, foxes, feral dogs, and humans.(1)

Threats

The main threat to this species is habitat loss as land is claimed for agriculture and land development, causing the badger population to drop. There are also other issues such as introduced raccoons which compete with badgers for resources,(2) and recent culling encouraged by the Japanese government.(3)

Geographic range

Body length: 79 cm / 31 in (males), 72 cm / 28 in (females)
Tail length: 14–20 cm / 5.5–7.9 in
Weight: 3.8–11 kg / 8.4–24.3 lb
Lifespan: Up to 10 years (wild), up to 19 years (captivity)
Range: Endemic to Japan, and is found on Honshū, Kyūshū, Shikoku and Shōdoshima.
Conservation status: Least concern
Subfamily: Melinae
References

  1. Riney, J. 2011. Meles anakuma (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 20, 2020.
  2. Kaneko, Y.; Masuda, R.; Abramov, A.V. (2016). “Meles anakuma”. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2016: e.T136242A45221049. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T136242A45221049.en
  3. Hornyak, T. (2017-06-09). “Ecologists warn of Japanese badger cull ‘crisis'”. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2017.22131.

#5 Northern Hog Badger (Arctonyx collaris albogularis / A. albogularis)

Photo by jpgalvan
Alternate photo: Link

The northern hog badger is widely distributed and common throughout much of China, with its distribution extending over most of the eastern half of the country. There is also one isolated record in eastern Mongolia.(1) Some classify the northern hog badger as a subspecies of the greater hog badger,(2) but the IUCN considers them to be a distinct species.(3)

Appearance

The northern hog badger is shaggy-coated and medium-sized (about the size of a Eurasian badger), being smaller than the greater hog badger. They are more gracile in all aspects of cranial conformation, and on average differ in having smaller premolars and molars compared to that species. The northern hog badger differs from both the northern and Sumatran hog badger by having only a moderately developed sagittal crest in the oldest animals. When compared to the Sumatran hog badger specifically, they differ further in having a larger skull on average, larger molars, a rostrum that is on average wider and proportionally less elongate, and a wider postdental palate.(1)

Habitat

The northern hog badger is found in temperate forests and grasslands of eastern Asia, specifically the Himalayas and China. They tend to live in burrows, dug especially along rivers and streams and under boulders. They are ecologically versatile, and can be found from sea-level to at least 4,300 meters (14,000 feet) in China.(1)

Behaviour

They appear to be solitary. Unlike other species of hog badger, the northern hog badger hibernates throughout winter from November to February or May, particularly in northern China.(1)

Reproduction

Northern hog badgers appear to only socialise during the mating season in April and May. Young are born in February and March, and the litters can apparently range in size from one to four. Their young are weaned after about four months.(1)

Diet

Northern hog badgers are opportunistic omnivores. In south-eastern China, the species is entirely carnivorous, feeding mainly on small vertebrates (especially rodents) and a considerable proportion of gastropods. They are not believed to consume plant matter.(1)

In contrast, a study of the northern hog badger’s diet at Long Xian in Shaanxi Province found that earthworms, roots, leaves, beetles, cicadas, lepidopteran larvae, and acorns were on the main menu, with some seasonal variability. Remains of small vertebrates such as rodents, snakes, frogs and bird were only found in 16% of stomachs. Earthworms appeared to be consumed more during late spring to autumn than in winter and early spring.(1)

Additional studies at a Milwaukee zoo noted that two hog badgers ate “most anything,” both meat and vegetal, further suggesting that the species is an opportunistic feeder with a diet that varies with season, location, and perhaps even individual preference.(1)

Predators

The species is preyed upon by various large carnivores such as leopards, wolves, and bears.(1)

Geographic range

Body length: 54.6–70 cm / 21.5–27.5 in
Tail length: 11.4–22.2 cm / 4.5–8.7 in
Weight: Not reported
Lifespan: Unknown (wild), unknown (captivity)
Range: The temperate forests and grasslands of eastern Asia.
Conservation status: Least concern
Subfamily: Melinae
References

  1. KRISTOFER M. HELGEN, NORMAN T-L. LIM, LAUREN E. HELGEN, The hog-badger is not an edentate: systematics and evolution of the genus Arctonyx (Mammalia: Mustelidae), Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, Volume 154, Issue 2, October 2008, Pages 353–385.
  2. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Arctonyx collaris in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.
  3. Helgen, K. & Chan, B. 2016. Arctonyx albogularis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T70206273A70206436. Downloaded on 10 February 2021.

#6 Sumatran Hog Badger (Arctonyx collaris hoevenii / A. hoevenii)

Alternate photo: Link

The Sumatran hog badger is found on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, along the length of the Bukit Barisan mountain chain.(1)(2) Some classify the Sumatran hog badger as a subspecies of the greater hog badger,(3) but the IUCN considers them to be a distinct species.(1)

Appearance

The Sumatran hog badger is smaller than other Arctonyx species, and is compared to the size of a very large domestic cat. The skull can be distinguished from other Arctonyx by their smaller size, narrow rostrum, pronounced sagittal crest, and proportionally small teeth. The fur is also sparser and much darker.(2)

Habitat

They have been recorded in montane forests and adjacent mountain meadows situated between about 800 and 2400 meters.(2)

Behaviour

Not much is known about the behaviour of the Sumatran hog badger, and much of their social structure remains a mystery. They are, however, known to be active both day and night. Camera-trapping in Gunung Tujuh, Kerinci Seblat National Park indicates they are mostly diurnal and crepuscular in that area.(1)

Reproduction

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Diet

Not much is known about their diet, but it is presumed they feed on almost entirely of ground-living invertebrates; particularly earthworms, ants, and beetle larvae.(1)

Predators

The Sumatran hog badger is preyed upon by both humans and large carnivores. They are perhaps most preyed upon by wild cats.(1)

Geographic range

Body length: 51–71 cm / 20–28 in
Tail length: 8–18 cm / 3–7 in
Weight: Not reported
Lifespan: Unknown (wild), unknown (captivity)
Range: The mountains and adjacent foothills of Sumatra.
Conservation status: Least concern
Subfamily: Melinae
References

  1. Holden, J., Helgen, K., Shepherd, C. & McCarthy, J. 2016. Arctonyx hoeveniiThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T70205771A70205927. Downloaded on 09 February 2021.
  2. KRISTOFER M. HELGEN, NORMAN T-L. LIM, LAUREN E. HELGEN, The hog-badger is not an edentate: systematics and evolution of the genus Arctonyx (Mammalia: Mustelidae), Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, Volume 154, Issue 2, October 2008, Pages 353–385.
  3. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Arctonyx collaris in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.

#7 American Badger (Taxidea taxus)
This species shares the common name “badger”, but is not directly related to other species on this page.

Photo by Yathin S Krishnappa

The American badger, also known as the North American badger, is found primarily in the Great Plains region of North America.

Appearance

The American badger’s short legs and broad body would suggest a link to other badger species such as the Eurasian badger, however, the two are not closely related, with both belonging to a separate genus. American badgers have grizzled, brown, black and white fur; having a nearly brown-tan appearance. They have black and white patches on their face, including brown to black markings on the cheeks known as “badges”. The throat and chin are whitish, and a white dorsal stripe extends from the nose to the base of the head. In the subspecies T. t. berlandieri, the white dorsal stripe extends the full length of the body to the rump.

Habitat

Their habitat of choice are mainly dry, open grasslands, fields, and pastures.(1)

Behaviour

The American badger is a solitary species, and tend to only interact during their breeding season to seek out mates. They are predominantly nocturnal, with some exceptions in particularly remote areas. At high elevations and latitudes, they are torpid during winter, but are not true hibernators. They tend to spend the winter in cycles of torpor, which usually last about 29 hours.(1)

They are skilled diggers, and can tunnel rapidly through soil. They use their powerful forelimbs to break the soil and push the debris behind or to the sides of its body.(2) Their burrows are used as dens for sleeping, to escape from predators, and for the pursuit of prey. These dens can be as far as 3 meters below the surface, and contain about 10 meters of tunnels, with an enlarged chamber for sleeping. American badgers may not use the same burrow more than once a month, and in the summer, they may dig a new burrow each day.(1)

Reproduction

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Diet

The menu consists of small burrowing animals such as ground squirrels, rats, gophers and other small animals. American badgers can also be found supplementing their diets with plant foods such as corn, green beans and mushrooms.(1)

Predators

Golden eagles, coyotes, bobcats, bears, and gray wolves will occasionally kill American badgers,(1) with cougars supposedly being the main predators of adults.(3) However, humans are most lethal for them, due to habitat destruction, trapping, hunting, automobile fatalities, and poisoning.(1)

Hunting associations between American badgers and coyotes

American badgers and coyotes have been known to hunt prairie dogs and ground-squirrels in tandem. Studies have shown this unusual relationship is beneficial for both species—the coyote will chase down prey that runs from the badger, and the badger will dig after prey if it heads underground to escape the coyote. Typically this pairing is one badger to one coyote, however, one study found about 9% of sightings included two coyotes to one badger, while 1% had one badger to three coyotes.(4)(5)(6)(7)

Sensationalism in media

Though perhaps not quite as misunderstood as weasels or the wolverine, the American badger has had its share of sensationalism; mostly in the form of internet memes. One well-known meme in particular perpetuates the misbelief that the American badger is superficially “vicious” compared to the Eurasian badger. Clearly the meme is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Western European (particularly British) versus American culture, but to be fair, it is easy to make the Eurasian badger seem “friendlier” when we compare them to the most dramatic photo of the American badger. We can appreciate a joke here, but not at the expense of demonising an animal.

The American badger’s common name actually has nothing to do with American nationality, nor are they exclusively found in the United States. They are called American badgers because they inhabit the North American countries of Canada, the United States, and Mexico. This confusion is why some people prefer the common name “North American badger”. Regardless of their looks, both the American and Eurasian badger would become aggressive if they had reason to feel threatened (e.g., being injured or trapped). However, despite the sensationalistic misinformation that these types of memes perpetuate, it is extremely rare for a wild badger of either species to attack humans.

Geographic range

Body length: 60–75 cm / 23.5–29.5 in
Weight: 6–11 kg / 14–25 lb (males), 6–7 kg / 14–16 lb (females)
Lifespan: Up to 14 years (wild), up to 26 years (captivity)
Range: Western and central United States, northern Mexico, and south-central Canada.
Conservation status: Least concern
Subfamily: Taxidiinae
Recognised subspecies(8)

  1. T. t. berladieri
  2. T. t. jacksoni
  3. T. t. jeffersonii
  4. T. t. marylandica
  5. T. t. taxus
References
  1. Shefferly, N. 1999. Taxidea taxus (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed July 22, 2020.
  2. Moore, Alexis L., et al. “Architectural specialization of the intrinsic thoracic limb musculature of the American badger (Taxidea taxus).” Journal of Morphology 274.1 (2013): 35-48.
  3. Thomas, Pete. USA Today. (September 10, 2019). “This cougar’s diet might surprise you”. Accessed February 9, 2020.
  4. U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. November 2, 2016. “Spotted! A Coyote and Badger Hunting Together”. Accessed February 9, 2020.
  5. McLendon, Russell. Treehugger. (2020). “Why coyotes and badgers hunt together”. Accessed February 9, 2020.
  6. Minta, Steven C., et al. “Hunting Associations between Badgers (Taxidea Taxus) and Coyotes (Canis Latrans).” Journal of Mammalogy, vol. 73, no. 4, 1992, pp. 814–820. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1382201. Accessed 28 April 2020.
  7. CBS News YouTube. 5 February 2020.Video shows coyote and badger on a mission together“. Accessed February 9, 2020.
  8. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Taxidea taxus in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.

#8 Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis)
This species shares the common name “badger”, but is not directly related to other species on this page.

Photo by Ray Turnbull

The honey badger, also known as the ratel (from Middle Dutch raat “honeycomb”), is a terrestrial animal that is widely distributed in Africa, southwest Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.

Appearance

Though the colour varies slightly by subspecies, generally the lower half of the body is dark black, with lighter shades of fur above that are either grey or white. The lighter fur colouring extends from the forehead to the base of the tail. Honey badgers have very thick and loose skin, which gives them an advantage over their predators, by enabling them to easily escape another animal’s grasp.(1)

Habitat

The honey badger is known to occupy elevations ranging from sea level to 2,600 meters (8,530 feet) above sea level in the Moroccan High Atlas, and 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) in Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains. Their habitats include tropical and subtropical green forests, thorn forests, open woodlands, riparian forests or grasslands, arid steppes, rocky hills, and deserts.(1)(2) They are generally not found in the driest portions of the Sahara Desert or the chaparral areas around the Mediterranean Sea. They prefer habitats with burrows, rock crevices, or other areas where they can seek shelter.(1)

Behaviour

Honey badgers are nomadic and mostly solitary, but have been seen hunting in pairs. They are known for their strength and boldness, and will attack almost any other species when they are cornered; including much larger predators such as lions and hyenas.(3) The honey badger was supposedly listed as the “world’s most fearless animal” in a 2002 edition of The Guinness Book of World Records, but there is no reliable evidence found online supporting this claim.

Their large, powerful claws give them the ability to be skilled diggers, and capable of quickly digging tunnels into hard ground. Their burrows usually have only one entry, and are around 1–3 m (3.3–9.8 ft) long.(4)

Reproduction

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Diet

Honey badgers are opportunistic foragers, and eat a variety of smaller food items such as small rodents, snakes, birds, frogs, insect larvae, beetles, scorpions and lizards. They will occasionally catch larger animals like pythons, springhares, polecats; including juvenile foxes, and African wild cats. Honey badgers are also known to eat fruit, roots, and bulbs.(1) True to their namesake, honey badgers are partial to bee hives. They are known for damaging commercial hives by breaking into the hives and consuming both the honey and bee larvae, which results in a monetary loss for beekeepers.(5)

Predators

Due to their thick skin, strength and defensive abilities, the honey badger has few natural predators. However, despite their often overstated ferocity they are not invincible. Although rare, they can be seriously injured or killed by larger predators such as African leopards, lions, and spotted hyenas.(1) They have even been found stung to death by honeybees; particularly when caught in apiary traps.(5)

Baby cheetahs have long, white fur called a mantle that runs from their head down to their back; looking similar to the honey badger. Although the exact reason is inconclusive, some researchers believe this mantle is intended to mimic the honey badger, in order to deter predators.(1)

Honeyguides myth

Contrary to popular belief, there is no persuasive evidence that honeyguides guide honey badgers.(6)(7)(8) It is believed this myth became popular after dishonest wildlife documentary-makers filmed a tamed honey badger interacting with a stuffed honeyguide.(6)(9)

Intelligence and perception in media

Many of us are aware of the constant hype surrounding the honey badger’s boldness, as well as numerous memes claiming “honey badgers don’t care”, but is this truly all there is to the species? Few people bring attention to the fact that the honey badger is also a very clever animal. Recent studies have shown they are capable of problem solving. One male honey badger named Stoffel has been observed using tools—taking and using objects to stand or climb on to escape captivity, or to reach food that would otherwise be out of his reach.(10)

Stoffel is a rescued honey badger that is kept at the Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre in South Africa. His caretaker, Brian Jones, built Stoffel a cage to keep him out of trouble. However, Stoffel’s incredible escape antics have made him the discussion of the species’ intelligence. Stoffel would dig up rocks and pile them into a corner to reach the top of the wall, when the rocks were removed, he would roll mud balls into a corner to accomplish the same escape. He would also grab rakes, shovels, tyres, or any other item he could use to climb out of his cage.(10) A 2014 documentary featuring Stoffel was made by the PBS’s Nature TV series, Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem.

Geographic range

Body length: 60–70 cm / 23.62–27.56 in
Weight: 10–16 kg / 20–35 lb (males), 5–10 kg / 11–22 lb (females)
Lifespan: Up to 8 years (wild), up to 26 years (captivity)
Range: Africa, Southwest Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.
Conservation status: Least concern
Subfamily: Mellivorinae
Recognised subspecies(11)

  1. M. c. abyssinica
  2. M. c. buechneri
  3. M. c. capensis
  4. M. c. concisa
  5. M. c. cottoni
  6. M. c. inaurita
  7. M. c. indica
  8. M. c. leuconota
  9. M. c. maxwelli
  10. M. c. pumilio
  11. M. c. signata
  12. M. c. wilsoni
References
  1. Hoffman, Z. 2014. “Mellivora capensis (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed July 21, 2020.
  2. Do Linh San, E., et al. Honey Badger. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e. T41629A45210107.” (2016).
  3. Hunter, Luke. Carnivores of the world. Vol. 117. Princeton University Press, 2019.
  4. Heptner, V. G., and A. A. Sludskii. “Mammals of the Soviet Union. Vol. II, part 1b, Carnivores (Mustelidae and Procyonidae).” Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Libraries and National Science Foundation (2002). p. 1225.
  5. Begg, K. S. Report on the conflict between beekeepers and honey badgers Mellivora capensis, with reference to their conservation status and distribution in South Africa. Unpublished report for the Endangered Wildlife Trust, Johannesburg (2001).
  6. Dean, W. R. J., W. Roy Siegfried, and I. A. W. MacDonald. “The fallacy, fact, and fate of guiding behavior in the greater honeyguide”. Conservation Biology 4.1 (1990): 99-101.
  7. Fincham, John E., Richard Peek, and Miles Markus. “The Greater Honeyguide: Reciprocal signalling and innate recognition of a Honey Badger”. Biodiversity Observations 8 (2017): 12-1.
  8. Macdonald, I. “The honeyguide and the honey-badger: a persistent African fairy tale”. Africa–Environment & Wildlife 2.4 (1994): 13.
  9. Yong, Ed (21, July 2016). “How To Summon The Bird That Guides You To Honey”. The Atlantic Monthly Group. Accessed 23 January 2020.
  10. PBS’s Nature TV series. (2014). Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem“.
  11. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Mellivora capensis in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.

What Are Mustelids?

American Mink | Badgers | Ferret-Badgers | Fisher | Grisons | Martens | Otters | PolecatsTayra | Weasels | Wolverine