Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Badger (animal)

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia

Badger is the common name for any animal of three subfamilies, which belong to the family Mustelidae: the same mammal family as the ferrets, the weasels, the otters, and several other types of carnivore. There are 9 species of badger, in three subfamilies: Melinae (the Eurasian badgers), Mellivorinae, (the Ratel or Honey Badger), and Taxidiinae (the American Badger).

The word badger was also used in English to refer to a dealer in food -- see Badger (person).

The name is possibly derived from the word badge, on account of the marks on the head; or it may be identical with the term noted below, the French blaireau being used in both senses.

Typical badgers (Meles, Arctonyx, Taxidea and Mellivora species) are short-legged and heavy-set. The lower jaw is articulated to the upper, by means of a transverse condyle firmly locked into a long cavity of the cranium, so that dislocation of the jaw is all but impossible. This enables the badger to maintain its hold with the utmost tenacity.

American Badger

Mustelidae Family

Table of contents
1 Melinae subfamily
2 Mellivorinae subfamily
3 Taxidiinae subfamily
4 Badgers and Humans
5 Badger Digging
6 Badger Baiting
7 United Kingdom
8 External References

Melinae subfamily

Indonesian or Javan stink badger (Mydaus meliceps)

The Indonesian stink badger is confined to the mountains of
Java (where it is called the teledu), Sumatra and Borneo. The head and body are about 15 in. long, and the tail no more than an inch; the fur is dark brown, with the top of the head, neck and a broad dorsal stripe, white. Like the skunk, this animal can eject the foetid secretion of the anal glands.

Palawan Stink Badger (Mydaus marchei)

Hog Badger (Arctonyx collaris)

Indian Ferret Badger (Melogale personata)

Oriental Ferret Badger (Melogale orientalis)

Chineese Ferret Badger (Melogale moschata)

Everett's Ferret Badger (Melogale everetti)

Eurasian Badger (Meles meles)

The Eurasian badger is found across most of Europe and many parts of Asia, from about 15 to 65 North, and from about 10 West to 135 East. It is particularly abundant in Britain and Ireland.

It is around 90 cm long (including a 20cm tail) and weighs 10 kilos on average. Weights can vary enormously however. In the northern parts of the species' range, badgers put on fat in the autumn to help them through the winter months. In parts of Russia, badgers may weigh as much as 32 kilos in the autumn. Their fat reserves enable them to spend up to 6 months asleep in their setts over the long, freezing Russian winter. The general hue of its fur is grey above and black on the under parts with a distinctive black and white striped face. Eurasian Badgers are nocturnal, omnivorous and territorial, but can be found in groups (called clans) of up to 12, living in extensive underground homes called setts. Males are called boars and females sows, the young are cubs. Badgers live for three to 12 years (up to 16 in captivity). If they survive their first year, the most common cause of death is by road traffic. In habits it may be taken as typical of the subfamily.

It feeds on roots, beech-mast, fruits, the eggs of birds, ?small quadrupeds, frogs and insects. It is said also to dig up the nests of wasps in order to eat the larvae.

Accepted subspecies include Meles meles meles (Western Europe), Meles meles marianensis (Spain and Portugal), Meles meles leptorynchus (Russia), Meles meles leucurus (China and Tibet), and Meles meles anaguma (Japan).

Fossil remains of the badger have been found in England in deposits of Pleistocene age.

Mellivorinae subfamily

Ratel or Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis)

Closely related to the Eurasian badger, the South African form is said to rob the bees of their honey. The male and female are seldom seen together, and are supposed to trace each other by the odour of the secretion in the
anal glands.

Taxidiinae subfamily

American Badger (Taxidea taxus)

The American badger ranges over the greater part of the western and central
United States as well as northern Mexico and southern Canada. Like the Eurasian badger it is a powerful digger, but some of its behaviors differ from those of its relatives.

T. taxus is more carnivorous than the Meles species, and does not inhabit a permanent sett, or burrow. Unless it is courting or rearing young, the American badger lives apart from others of its kind. It hunts, wanders and sleeps in temporary burrows within a given territory, often inhabiting holes excavated by other animals and sometimes even sharing space with the original tenants.

Badgers and Humans

The badger's skill at digging has led to folk beliefs that the animal's paws give good luck in childbirth. The Pueblo people consider the badger great healers and believe them to be intimately connected to their shamans. Japanese legends include shapeshifting badgers.

The badger does not usually seek to attack, but, when driven to bay, its great muscular power and tough hide render it a formidable antagonist. Consequently the amimals were used in the cruel sport of badger-baiting.

Badgers are listed in Appendix III of the Berne Convention, but are not otherwise the subject of any international treaty or legislation. Badgers are hunted in many countries, either as a perceived pest, or for sport. Many badger setts in Europe were gassed during the 1960s and 70s to control rabies.

Badger Digging

Badger digging is the process of digging a badger out of its set. Terriers or dachshunds (dogs) are used to locate the badger in the tunnel, after which the diggers attempt to dig down to the badger. If the badger tries to dig to escape, the dog will attack. Sometimes radio transmitters are attached to the dog to help in its location. The captured badger may sometimes be released elsewhere, but is more often killed or used in badger baiting.

Badger Baiting

In the "sport" of bager baiting, a badger, usually teathered, is attacked by a succession of dogs. When the badger is no longer able to fight, it is killed. Betting is usually also involved. Badger baiting has been practiced since at least the middle ages in Europe.

United Kingdom

Badger-baiting was formerly popular throughout Great Britain, until prohibited about the middle of the 19th century, together with bear-baiting and bull-baiting. Badgers digging was made illegal in 1973 under the Badger Act. However an estimated 10,000 badgers are still killed each year by badger baiting, digging, shooting, and other illegal means.

Amid concern over bovine tuberculosis (TB), test carrrried out by the Ministry of Agriculture in the early 1970s showed that TB was more common in badgers than in other species. In 1973 they sponsored the Badger Act, allowing licenses to be issued for the culling of badgers. However there are various other theories concerning the transmission of TB to cattle, and badger culling remains a contentious issue in the UK. The most recent legislation is the Protection of Badgers Act of 1992.

Badgers are popular with the general public, if not with farmers, and societies exist to protect the species.

External References

Steve Jackson's Badger Pages