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. Though in some species such as ferret-badgers, this is not as prominent despite the fact that they still exhibit digging behaviour. Badgers are 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.

Table of Contents

(1) Asian Badger (Meles leucurus)

Photo by Zoosnow

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

Appearance

Asian badgers are the smallest of the three Meles species. They are superficially similar looking to the European 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 European badger. Asian badgers from Mongolia tend to have a lighter coat, while those from the Amur region are noticeably darker in colour.(1)(2)

Behaviour

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Habitat and diet

The Asian badger prefers temperate regions such as forests, but they can also be found in mountainous regions, semi-deserts and tundra habitats.(3) They are generally a nocturnal species, living in communal setts made up of family groups with some solitary individuals in areas with food scarcity. 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.(4)

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.(3) Thankfully however their population numbers do not appear to have been affected too detrimentally by this.

Range map

Body length: 50–70 cm / 20–28 in (males)
Weight: 3.5–9 kg / 7.7–19.8 lb (males)
Lifespan: Unknown (wild), unknown (captivity)
Range: Southern portions of Russia and east of the Urals, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China, and Korea.
Conservation status: Least concern
Recognised subspecies(5)

  1. M. l. amurensis
  2. M. l. arenarius
  3. M. l. leucurus
  4. M. l. sibiricus
  5. M. l. tianschanensis
References

  1. Heptner & Sludskii 2002, p. 1251
  2. Wilson, Don E., and Russell A. Mittermeier. “Handbook of the mammals of the world. Vol. 1. Carnivores.” Lynx Edicions, Barcelona 1 (2009).
  3. 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.
  4. Murdoch, J., S. Buyandelger. 2010. An account of badger diet in an arid steppe region of Mongolia. Journal of Arid Environments, 74: 1348-1350.
  5. Wozencraft, W.C. (2005). “Order Carnivora”. In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M (eds.). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.

(2) European Badger (Meles meles)

Photo by Kallerna

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

Appearance

European 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.(4)

Behaviour

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Habitat and diet

This species 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.(5) Their territorial ranges vary in size and are greatly dependent on food availability, as well as the size and quality of the sett. If food is scarce, these badgers will often cover larger distances in search of food. Although European badgers are territorial, they will often be tolerant of other groups unless forced into conflict through food competition.(6)

The European 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.(7)

Interactions with other animals

While it would seem most European 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)

Animals which predate these badgers include species such as grey wolves, Eurasian lynxes and brown bears.(9) Golden eagles have also been seen to prey upon young badgers given the opportunity.(10)

Social media

European badgers are by far the most common badger species found in literature, as well as other types of media such as video games, animation and live-action films.

Range map

Body length: 60–90 cm / 24–35 in (males)
Tail length: 12–24 cm / 4.7–9.4 in (males)
Weight: 7–13 kg / 15–29 lb (males in summer), 15–17 kg / 33–37 lb (males in autumn)(11)
Lifespan: Up to 14 years (wild), up to 19 years (captivity)
Range: Europe and western Asia.
Conservation status: Least concern
Recognised subspecies(12)

  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. “Physical Description” https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Meles_meles/
  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. Heptner & Sludskii 2002, pp. 1234–12
  5. “Habitat” https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Meles_meles/
  6. “Home Range” https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Meles_meles/
  7. Heptner & Sludskii 2002, pp. 1234–1237
  8. Dale, Thomas Francis, The fox, Longmans, Green, and Co., 1906
  9. Sidorovich, V. E., Rotenko, I. I., & Krasko, D. A. (2011, March). Badger Meles meles spatial structure and diet in an area of low earthworm biomass and high predation risk. In Annales Zoologici Fennici (Vol. 48, No. 1, pp. 1–16). Finnish Zoological and Botanical Publishing.
  10. Watson, J. (2010). The golden eagle. Poyser Monographs; A&C Black.
  11. Heptner & Sludskii 2002, pp. 1241–1242
  12. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Meles meles in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.

(3) Hog Badger (Arctonyx collaris)

Photo by David Cook

The hog badger, also known as the greater hog badger, is a terrestrial mustelid native to Southeast Asia, starting from Sikkim and northeastern China to Thailand. They are found in grasslands, hills, mountains, tropical rainforests, tropical evergreen, and semi-evergreen forests.(1)

Appearance

At first glance, hog badgers may look similar to European badgers, but they are generally smaller, have larger front claws, and a pig-like snout that’s 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 European 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. Hog badgers have two black stripes on a white face, with a white throat and stocky body.(1)(2)

Behaviour and Diet

Hog badgers are solitary animals that are described as diurnal, ground-dwelling and not prone to shyness.(3) 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. Hog badgers are omnivorous, and depending on what’s available, their diet can consists of worms, fruits, roots, tubers and small animals.(1)(2)

Threats

Tigers and leopords are the only known natural predators of the 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.(3) Hog badgers are protected animals in Thailand and India.(4)

Range map

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

  1. A. c. collaris
  2. A. c. albogularis
  3. A. c. consul
  4. A. c. dictator
  5. A. c. hoevenii
  6. A. c. leucolaemus
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 at http://www.ecologyasia.com/verts/mammals/hog-badger.htm.
  3. 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.
  4. Timmins, R., B. Long, J. Duckworth, W. Ying-Xiang, T. Zaw. 2008. “Encyclopedia of Life” (On-line). Arctonyx collaris. Accessed 18 March, 2020 at http://eol.org/pages/328030/details.
  5. Wilson, Don E. & Reeder, DeeAnn M. (Editors) 2005. Arctonyx collaris in Mammal Species of the World. – A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference.

(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 Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku and Shōdoshima, notably being absent from Hokkaido.(1)

Appearance

Japanese badgers are physically similar to European 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.(2)

Behaviour

Japanese badger social behaviour differs from the European badger in that they live predominantly solitary lives, with males only interacting with females to mate and play no role in rearing the young.(3) 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.(4)

Diet

The Japanese badger primarily feeds on earthworms, but will also consume berries and beetles in the summer months. Within a Tokyo suburb called Hinode, badgers are also known to switch from eating earthworms to eating Persimmons (a type of fruit) during the autumn.(3)

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.(5)

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,(3) and recent culling encouraged by the Japanese government.(6)

Range map

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

  1. “Geographical Range” https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Meles_anakuma/
  2. “Physical Description” https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Meles_anakuma/
  3. 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
  4. “Behavior” https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Meles_anakuma/
  5. “Habitat” https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Meles_anakuma/
  6. Hornyak, T. (2017-06-09). “Ecologists warn of Japanese badger cull ‘crisis'”. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2017.22131.

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

Photo by Yathin S Krishnappa

The American badger is found primarily in the Great Plains region of North America. They are stocky mustelids known for their intimidating defensive displays and fearlessness, but also for their secretive nature.(1)

Appearance

The American badger’s short legs and broad bodies would suggest a link to other badger species such as the European badger, however the two are not closely related with the two species belonging to separate genus.(2)American badgers have 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.(3)

Behaviour

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Habitat and diet

Their habitat of choice are mainly open prairies where sandy soils make it easier to dig burrows and dig out their prey,(4) which consists of small burrowing animals such as ground squirrels, rats, gophers and other small animals.(5) American badgers can also be found supplementing their diets with plant foods such as corn, green beans and mushrooms.(6)

American badgers live a predominantly nocturnal life which some exceptions in particularly remote areas.(7) Currently the biggest threats to the American badger is the conversion of their natural habitat into intensive agriculture, vehicle collisions and prosecution of their prey species.(8)

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.(9)(10)(11)(12)

Range map

Body length: 60–75 cm / 23.5–29.5 in (males)
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
Recognised subspecies(13)

  1. T. t. berladieri
  2. T. t. jacksoni
  3. T. t. jeffersonii
  4. T. t. marylandica
  5. T. t. taxus
References

  1. “What does it look like?” http://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/what-we-do/resource-centre/featured-species/mammals/american_badger.html
  2. Law, C. J.; Slater, G. J.; Mehta, R. S. (2018-01-01). “Lineage Diversity and Size Disparity in Musteloidea: Testing Patterns of Adaptive Radiation Using Molecular and Fossil-Based Methods”. Systematic Biology. 67 (1): 127–144. doi:10.1093/sysbio/syx047
  3. American Society of Mammalogists Staff; Smithsonian Institution Staff (1999). The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. UBC Press. p. 179. ISBN 0-7748-0762-8.
  4. “Habitat” https://nhpbs.org/natureworks/americanbadger.htm
  5. “Diet” https://nhpbs.org/natureworks/americanbadger.htm
  6. “Food Habits” https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Taxidea_taxus/
  7. “Long, Charles A. (1972). “Taxidea taxus” (PDF). Journal of Mammalogy. 26 (26): 1–4. doi:10.2307/3504047. JSTOR 3504047. Archived (PDF) from the original on 13 July 2007. Retrieved 03-11-2020.”
  8. “Threats to their safety and wellbeing” http://www.wildlifelandtrust.org/wildlife/close-ups/american-badger.html
  9. “Spotted! A Coyote and Badger Hunting Together”fws.gov.
  10. “Why coyotes and badgers hunt together”mnn.com.
  11. 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.
  12. “Video shows coyote and badger on a mission together” https://youtu.be/6RC_6teBS6o CBS News YouTube. Retrieved 02-09-2020.
  13. Long, Charles A. “Taxidea taxus.” Mammalian Species 26 (1973): 1-4.

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

Photo by Aleutia

The honey badger, also known as the ratel, are terrestrial animals that inhabits many habitats, including tropical and subtropical green forests, thorn forests, open woodlands, riparian forests or grasslands, arid steppes, rocky hills, and deserts.(1)(2) They are mostly solitary and nomadi, known for their strength and boldness. The honey badgers are known to attack almost any other species when they are cornered; including much larger predators such as lions and hyenas.(3) They were listed as the “world’s most fearless animal” in a 2002 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records.

Appearance

Though the colour varies slightly by subspecies, generally the lower half of their bodies are 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.(4) 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.(5)

Behaviour

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Diet

Honey badgers are 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 leguaans, crocodiles, pythons, springhares, polecats; including juvenile foxes, jackals, antelope and wild cats.(1) Honey badgers also known to eat fruit, roots, and bulbs.(2)(5) True to their namesake, honey badgers are partial to bee hives. They are known for damaging commercial hives by breaking into the hives and eating the honey. They will even consume the bee larvae inside the honey, which results in a monetary loss for beekeepers.(6)

Honeyguides myth

Contrary to popular belief, there is no persuasive evidence that honeyguides guide honey badgers.(7)(8)(9) It is believed this myth became popular after dishonest wildlife documentary-makers filmed a tamed honey badger interacting with a stuffed honeyguide.(7)(10)

Intelligence

Honey badgers are considered to be very intelligent animals, and recent studies have shown they are capable of problem solving. Even if the solution to the problem has changed, they are capable of adapting to that new solution. They are also one of few animals that have 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 their reach.(11)

In social media

Stoffel is a rescued honey badger that is kept at the Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre in South Africa. His caretaker, Brian Jones, built him a cage to keep 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.(11) A documentary featuring Stoffel was made by the PBS’s Nature TV series, Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem.

Range map

Body length: 60–70 cm / 23.62–27.56 in (males)
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
Recognised subspecies(12)

  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. Do Linh San, E., et al. “Mellivora capensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e. T41629A45210107.” (2016).
  2. Gupta, Shilpi, et al. “Abundance and habitat suitability model for Ratel (Mellivora capensis) in Sariska Tiger Reserve, Western India.” Wildlife Biology in Practice 8.1 (2012): 13-22.
  3. Hunter, Luke. Carnivores of the world. Vol. 117. Princeton University Press, 2019.
  4. Vanderhaar, Jana M., and Yeen Ten Hwang. “Mellivora capensis.” Mammalian Species 2003.721 (2003): 1-8.
  5. Rosevear, Donovan Reginald, et al. The carnivores of west Africa. 1974.
  6. Bright, Paul W. “Lessons from lean beasts: conservation biology of the mustelids.” Mammal Review 30.3‐4 (2000): 217-226.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Macdonald, I. “The honeyguide and the honey-badger: a persistent African fairy tale.” Africa–Environment & Wildlife 2.4 (1994): 13.
  10. Yong, Ed (21, July 2016). “How To Summon The Bird That Guides You To Honey” The Atlantic Monthly Group. Retrieved 23 January 2020.
  11.  Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem by PBS’s Nature TV series (2014) – https://youtu.be/c36UNSoJenI
  12. Wozencraft, W.C. (2005). “Order Carnivora”. In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M (eds.). “Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference” (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 612.

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