Badger is an incredible, short-legged, omnivorous animal commonly found in North America and most of Europe as far as southern Scandinavia. The honey badger is found in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa, including the southern Levant, Turkmenistan, the Arabian Desert, and India while the Javan ferret-badger lives in Indonesia, and the Bornean ferret-badger lives in Malaysia. There are three major species of badgers: the black, grey and white badger. However, the European Badger we know is only one of nearly a dozen in the family that covers most of the world between them. The African Badger – honey badger (Mellivora capensis) is also known as the ratel and is found in Africa, South East Asian and the Indian sub-continent. Here are 20 interesting facts about badgers. One of the Badger facts indicates that they are the largest terrestrial mustelids in Africa.
Badger Facts – General
1 – There are in fact eleven species of badger and they are members of the family Mustelidae or weasels … albeit rather large ones. There was a twelfth, the Asiatic Stink Badger, Mydaus, but genetic evidence has now proved this to be a skunk instead. Of the rest, the Ratels or Honey Badgers, Mellivora Capensis, and the American Badgers, Taxidea Taxus, are in subfamilies of their own, and the remaining nine Eurasian badgers share the family Melinae.
2 – The Eurasian badgers are almost all named for their geographic locations; three in the genus Meles – Japanese, M. Anakuma; Asian, M. Leucurus and European, M. Meles – five in Melogale, the ferret-badgers – Burmese, M. Personata; Javan, M. Orientalis; Chinese, M. Moschata; Bornean, M. Everetti and Vietnam, M. Cucphuongensis – and finally, genus Arctonyx, the Hog badger, A. Collaris (which is found in Southern China and surrounding areas).
3 – Another of the badger facts most people don’t know is there’s no definitive derivation for the name ‘badger’; some think it is from the French ‘bêcheur’, meaning digger, others, including the OED, prefer to think that it derives from ‘badge’ plus the suffix ‘-ard’, referring to the white badge-like mark on the head.
4 – The badger is the state animal of Wisconsin in the USA and an official mascot three times over; at Brock University, St Catharines, Ontario (Canada), at St Aidan’s College in the University of Durham (England), and of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s athletic teams (USA). In Japanese folklore, badgers appear as wild, mischievous beings.
5 – Most badger species are classified for conservation purposes as ‘least concern’, i.e not at all threatened, but the Hog badger is ‘near threatened’ and the Burmese, Javan, Bornean and Vietnam ferret-badgers are marked as ‘data deficient’ – i.e they are so rarely seen nothing much is known about them, which has to translate as ‘there aren’t very many.’
Badger Facts – Characteristics
6 – All the various species of badgers look very similar, apart from tail length; they all have short, fat bodies, short legs (for digging), long heads with small ears, black faces with white markings, gray bodies with a light stripe the full length, light stomachs and dark legs (although some are browner than grey in colour). Tail lengths vary between species; some are very short, while in others, especially the ferret-badgers, they are up to 20 inches (51 cm) long. The animals vary in size, too, from the little ferret-badgers at around 9.1-11 kg (20-24 lb) up to the European badger at around 18 kg (40 lb) in weight and 90 cm (35 inches) in length.
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7 – Badgers’ jaws are muscled in such a way as to make dislocation pretty much impossible – thus they can hang on to anything with phenomenal strength and grim tenacity, but this does mean that movements of the jaw are limited to straight up/down OR left/right, with no play between the two directions.
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8 – Although officially carnivores, badgers are actually omnivores, meaning they’ll eat pretty much anything that comes their way; from insects, grubs and earthworms, to small animals of all sorts, birds, roots and fruit. The Honey Badger will eat honey (surprise!), also porcupines and snakes; they’ll even climb trees to reach the bees’ nests. American Badgers catch their prey by digging and can tunnel after them with remarkable speed. Badgers have even been known to become tipsy after eating rotting and fermenting fruit!
Badger Facts – Behaviour
9 – All badgers live underground in burrows or ‘setts’ consisting of often quite extensive tunnel systems with chambers at various points and several entrances. They are mostly, but not always, nocturnal and are capable of running or galloping at up to 30 km per hour (19 mph) in short bursts. Some are solitary, others live in clans or cetes of up to 15 animals.
10 – Most are not usually aggressive creatures, but they will use their great strength to defend themselves and particularly their young, to the death, often fighting off much larger animals such as bears and wolves. This led to the practice of ‘badger baiting’ where badgers were set to fight dogs and other larger animals for so-called ‘sport’. Badger baiting has long been illegal in Britain since 1930 but is known to still happen on occasion.
11 – The weight of a badger changes seasonally, as they build up fat reserves between spring and autumn, in preparation for effectively hibernating over the worst of the winter. The heaviest recorded badger was a European boar at 27.2 kg (60 lb), but unverified claims have been made of up to 7 kg (15 lb) more.
12 – Some badgers are laid back enough that they will share their setts with other similar sized animals, such as rabbits, foxes, etc. However, when they settle in for their ‘winter sleep’, badgers block the entrances to their setts with earth and leaves – which must be rather disconcerting for any non-hibernating animals that are living with them!
Badger Facts – Specialties
13 – American badgers and coyotes sometimes eat each other when the opportunity presents itself, but mostly leave each other alone. However, they have on occasion actually been seen co-operating with each other in order to hunt – the faster coyotes chase prey above ground, while the slow but strong badgers dig them out below ground, making an effective team!
14 – Japanese badgers practice ‘delayed implantation’, mating in the spring soon after the previous cubs are born, but waiting until the following winter before allowing the new cubs to begin gestating, ready to be born in the spring.
15 – The European badger is very fussy about keeping its setts clean, and will only defecate in specific latrines dug at a distance. It has even been known to bury dead family members rather than leave them ‘lying around’. It is alleged to spread bovine tuberculosis to livestock, although this has yet to be conclusively proved.
16 – The Chinese ferret-badger would be a rather disconcerting house-mate to most animals since it produces extremely foul-smelling anal secretions.
17 – The existence of the Vietnam ferret-badger was only discovered in 2005, when an animal was wounded by a snare in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam. A year later the body of a recently dead one was found, allowing scientists to describe it but little else. It is not surprising that it is ‘data deficient’ on the conservation listing, with only two documented individuals being found so far!
18 – Of all the badger species, the Honey badger looks more like their weasel relatives than the other badgers, that’s one of the many badger facts people don’t know; it is also extremely intelligent and can use tools, a very rare capability in animals. It is one of the few animals that will kill for the sake of it, e.g killing all the birds in a poultry house and only taking a couple. Due to its ferocity, strength, flexibility and very tough yet loose skin, it is very difficult for humans to contend with – it will attack anything/anyone that comes near, and is strong and ferocious enough even to repel lions; its skin is more or less impervious to arrows and spears, the only place safe to hold one is the scruff of the neck as it will twist and turn in any other direction you hold it in order to get its claws and teeth into play, and about the only way to incapacitate one is a gunshot or a very hard blow to the head – nothing else will stop it! A frightening animal indeed!
Badger Facts – Characters
19 – In books: badgers have always been popular as characters, usually being portrayed as wise and respected seniors. There are a number of ‘Badger Lords’ and ‘Badger Mothers’ in Brian Jacques’ Redwall series; and other badger characters include Russell Hoban’s Frances, CS Lewis’s Truffle hunter (in the Narnia series), Beatrix Potter’s Tommy Brock (in The Tale of Mr Tod) and Lafcadio Hearn’s Mujina (in Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things). Books by Kenneth Grahame (The Wind in the Willows), T H White (The Once and Future King), Colin Dann (The Animals of Farthing Wood), Roald Dahl (Fantastic Mr Fox), Allan W Eckert (Incident at Hawk’s Hill), Richard Adams (Watership Down) and Erin Hunter (Warriors) all feature a badger as a main character, and this is just a selection.
20 – On film: Typhlosion and Linoone in ‘Pokemon’ are based on badgers; Walt Disney’s ‘Robin Hood’ (1973) has Friar Tuck as a badger and in the ‘Doctor Snuggles’ series, Dennis the handyman was, too. Not to mention all the film versions of the many books noted above!