What is a badger?

The signpost reads:

The south-east Asian hog badger.

The Calamian or Palawan stink badger.

The Indonesian stink badger.

The eurasian badger.

The ferret badger.

The African honey badger.

The North American badger.

Books on badgers.

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A word about scientific data.
A great deal of effort was expended to make the information on this page as accurate as possible. Multiple scientific sources were considered whenever available. This page should not, however, be considered an authoritative reference. This information is presented for entertainment purposes only. No information has been contributed or verified by any individual with any credentials whatsoever. The creators, authors, and contributors to this Website are not to be held liable for anything stupid you run out and do because of something you read on the Internet. For authoritative information, we suggest the books listed at the bottom of this page. Photos on this page are reproduced without permission.

The badger species of the world include:

Photo credit: Thailand Department of Environmental Quality Promotion.

Arctonyx collaris, the south-east Asian hog badger.

This species is found from Sikkim and northeastern China to peninsular Thailand and on the island of Sumatra (Corbet 1978; Lekagul and McNeely 1977).

Head and body length is 550-700 mm, tail length is 120-70 mm, and weight is usually 7-14 kg. The back is yellowish, grayish, or blackish, and there is a pattern of white and black stripes on the head. The dark stripes run through the eyes and are bordered by white stripes that merge with the nape and with the white of the throat. The ears and tail also are white, and the feet and belly are black. The body form is stocky. This badger is distinguished from Meles by its white, rather than black, throat and by its long and mostly white tail, as distinct from the short tail, colored the same as the back, in Meles. Another external difference is that in Arctonyx the claws are pale in color, while in Meles they are dark. The common name of Arctonyx refers to the long, truncate, mobile, and naked snout, which is often compared to that of a pig.

The hog badger is usually found in forested areas at elevations of up to 3,500 meters (Lekagul and McNeely 1977). It is nocturnal, spending the day in natural shelters, such as rock crevices, or in self-excavated burrows. The snout is thought to be used in rooting for the various plants and small animals that compose the diet.

The general habits probably resemble those of Meles. As with Meles and Mellivora, the color pattern has been interpreted as a means of warning potential enemies that the animal so marked is best left alone. Like these other genera, Arctonyx is a savage and formidable antagonist. It has thick and loose skin, powerful jaws, fairly strong teeth, well-developed claws, and a potent anal gland secretion.

A female from northern China had four newborn young in April. Parker (1979) reported that a captive pair from China was received at the Toronto Zoo in July 1976. The female gave birth to two cubs in February 1977; one cub survived and reached approximate adult size at 7.5 months. In February 1978 the same female gave birth to four young. Matings had been observed from April to September 1977, but delayed implantation was suspected, and true gestation was postulated at less than 6 weeks. According to unconfirmed reports, a captive lived for 13 years and 11 months.

Photo credit: The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Suillotaxus marchei, the Calamian or Palawan stink badger.

Found on the some of the Islands of the Calamian group north and east of Borneo, Palawan and Busuanga. (Philippines).

The head and body length is 320-460 mm, tail length is 15-45 mm, and weight is about 2.5 kg. The upper parts are brown to black, with a scattering of white or silvery hairs on the back and sometimes on the head, and the underparts are brown.

It has a pointed face, a somewhat elongate and mobile snout, short and stout limbs, and well-developed anal scent glands. Suillotaxus marchei has relatively small ears (when compared with Mydaus javanensis), a shorter tail, and larger teeth.

This badger inhabits grassland-thicket and cultivated areas (Long and Killingley 1983). Grimwood (1976) wrote that it is active both by day and by night. It is common, leaving its tracks and scent along roads and paths. It moves with a rather ponderous, fussy walk. One individual played dead when first touched, and allowed itself to be carried, but finally squirted a jet of yellowish fluid from its anal glands into the lens of a camera about 1 meter away.

Some natives eat the flesh of Suillotaxus marchei, removing the scent glands immediately after the animals are killed. Others mix shavings of the skin with water and drink the mixture as a cure for fever or rheumatism.

Photo credit: Indonesian Biodiversity Conservation Project

Mydaus javanensis, the Indonesian stink badger.

Found only on Java, Borneo, Sumatra and the North Natuna Islands (Philippines).

Head and body length is 375-510 mm, tail length is usually 50-75 mm, and weight is usually 1.4-3.6 kg. The coloration is blackish, except for a white crown and a complete or partial narrow white stripe down the back onto the tail.

It has a pointed face, a somewhat elongate and mobile snout, short and stout limbs, and well-developed anal scent glands.

Reportedly is a montane species, it is often found at elevations over 2,100 meters (Long and Killingley 1983). It is nocturnal, residing by day in holes in the ground, dug either by itself or by the porcupines with which it sometimes lives. The burrows usually are not more than 60 cm deep. On Borneo this species reportedly inhabits caves. Captives have consumed worms, insects, and the entrails of chickens.

It may growl and attempt to bite when handled. If molested or threatened, it raises the tail and ejects a pale greenish fluid. This vile-smelling secretion is reported by natives sometimes to asphyxiate dogs, or even blind them if they are struck in the eye. The old Javanese sultans used this fluid, in suitable dilution, in the manufacture of perfumes.

Some natives eat its flesh, removing the scent glands immediately after the animals are killed. Others mix shavings of the skin with water and drink the mixture as a cure for fever or rheumatism.

Photo credit: Derek Conway.

Meles meles, the eurasian badger.

The species Meles meles originally occurred throughout Europe, including the British Isles and several Mediterranean islands, and in Asia as far east as Japan and as far south as Palestine, Iran, Tibet, and southern China (Corbet 1978; Long and Killingley 1983). The authority for the generic name Meles sometimes is given as Brisson, 1762.

Head and body length is 560-900 mm, tail length is 115-202 mm, and weight is usually 10-16 kg; Novikov (1962), however, wrote that old males attain weights of 30-34 kg in the late fall. The upper parts are grayish, and the underparts and limbs are black. On each side of the face is a dark stripe that extends from the tip of the snout to the ear and encloses the eye; white stripes border the dark stripe. Like other badgers, Meles has a stocky body, short limbs, and a short tail. From Arctonyx collaris, it is distinguished by its black throat and shorter tail, which is the same color as the back. Females have three pairs of mammae (Grzimek 1975).

The Old World badger is found mainly in forests and densely vegetated areas. It usually lives in a large communal burrow system that covers about 0.25 hectare. There are numerous entrances, passages, and chambers. Nests may be located 10 meters from an entrance and 2-3 meters below the surface of the ground and have a diameter of 1.5 meters. A burrow system may be used for decades or centuries, by one generation of badgers after another; it continually increases in complexity and may eventually cover several hectares (Grzimek 1975; Novikov 1962). The animals occupying a system may utilize one nest for several months and then suddenly move to another part of the burrow. The living quarters are kept quite clean. Bedding material, in the form of dry grass, brackens, moss, or leaves, is dragged backward into the den. Occasionally this bedding is brought up and strewn around the entrance to air for an hour or so in the early morning. Around the burrows are dung pits, sunning grounds, and areas for play (badgers play all sorts of games, including leapfrog). Apocryphal reports have badgers burying their dead. Well-defined foraging paths may extend outward for 2-3 km (Novikov 1962). Kruuk (1978a) distinguished two kinds of burrows: "main setts," with an average of 10.5 entrances; and small "outliers," usually with only a single entrance.

Meles usually does not emerge from its burrow until after sundown. During periods of very cold weather and high snow, it may spend days or weeks in the den. Such intervals of winter sleep extend to several months in northern Europe and up to seven months in Siberia. There is no substantial drop in body temperature, and the badger can be aroused easily, but the animal lives off of fat reserves accumulated in the summer and fall. The omnivorous diet includes almost any available food--small mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs, mollusks, insects, larvae of bees and wasps, carrion, nuts, acorns, berries, fruits, seeds, tubers, rhizomes, and mushrooms. Earthworms have been found to be of major dietary importance in some areas (Kruuk 1978b; Skoog 1970).

In a study in England, Kruuk (1978a) found badgers to be organized into clans of up to 12 individuals. The minimum distance between the main burrows of clans was 300 meters. Most clans used ranges of 50-150 ha., and there was little overlap. The ranges were marked by defecation and secretions from subcaudal glands. Several fights were observed along territorial boundaries. Most clans had more females than males, but one, which used a range of only 21 ha., consisted solely of males (it was suggested that in other parts of the range of Meles the bachelors may be nomadic). Individuals moved around alone within the clan range. Adult males always slept in the main setts, but females sometimes slept in the outliers, especially in the summer.

Mating occurs from late winter to midsummer. Development of the fertilized eggs stops at the blastocyst stage, and implantation in the uterus is delayed for about 10 months. The time of implantation seems to be controlled by conditions of light and temperature. Following implantation, embryonic development proceeds for 6-8 weeks, and births occur mainly from February to March. The total period of pregnancy may thus extend for about 1 year. Females may experience a postpartum estrus. The number of young in a litter is two to six, usually three or four. The young weigh 75 grams each at birth, open their eyes after about 1 month, nurse for 2.5 months, and usually separate from the female in the autumn. Both males and females apparently attain sexual maturity at the age of 1 year (Ahnlund 1980; Canivenc and Bonnin 1979; Grzimek 1975; Novikov 1962). One specimen lived in captivity for 16 years and 2 months (Jones 1982).

Meles sometimes damages ripening grapes, corn, and oats. Its hair is used to make various kinds of brushes, and its skin, at least formerly, has been used in northern China to make rugs. It has declined in much of its European range but apparently has recovered to some extent in Great Britain. It now occupies most of the island and has been estimated to number about 100,000-200,000 (Clements, Neal, and Yalden 1988).

Photo credit: Royal Forest Department of Thailand.

Melogale everetti, the ferret badger of Borneo.
Melogale personata, the large-toothed Indochine ferret badger.
Melogale mosquata, the Chinese ferret badger.

Melogale mosquata, is found from Assam to central China and in northern Indochina, Taiwan, Hainan;
Melogale personata, from Nepal to Indochina, and on Java;
Melogale everetti, is only found in Borneo.

Long (1978) noted that Melogale mosquata sorella, of southeastern China, and Melogale personata orientalis, of Java, might possibly be full species.

Head and body length is 330-430 mm, tail length is 145-230 mm, and weight is 1-3 kg. The general coloration of the upper parts is gray brown to brown black; the underparts are somewhat paler. A white or reddish dorsal stripe is usually present. Melogale is distinguished by the striking coloration of the head, which combines black with patches of white or yellow. The tail is bushy, the limbs are short, and the feet are broad and have long, strong claws for digging (Lekagul and McNeely 1977).

Ferret badgers are found in wooded country and grassland. They reside in burrows and natural shelters during the day and are active at dusk and during the night. They climb on occasion. Melogale mosquata in Taiwan is reported to be a good climber and often to sleep on the branches of trees. Ferret badgers are savage and fearless when provoked or pressed and have an offensive odor. The conspicuous markings on the head have been interpreted as being a warning signal. The diet is omnivorous and is known to include small vertebrates, insects, earthworms, and fruit. A ferret badger is sometimes welcome to enter a native hut, because of its destruction of insect pests.

The young, usually one to three per litter, are born in a burrow in May and June. They apparently are dependent on the milk of the mother for some time, as two nearly full-grown suckling animals and their mother were once found in a burrow. According to Jones (1982), a specimen of Melogale mosquata was still living after 10 years and 6 months in captivity.

Photo credit: AfricaExplore.com online safari planner

Mellivora capensis, the African honey badger, or ratel.

The species Mellivora capensis originally occurred from Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula to Turkmen S.S.R. and eastern India and from Morocco and lower Egypt to South Africa (Coetzee, in Meester and Setzer 1977; Corbet 1978).

Head and body length is 600-770 mm, tail length is usually 200-300 mm, and shoulder height is usually 250-300 mm. Kingdon (1977) listed weight as 7-13 kg. The upper parts, from the top of the head to the base of the tail, vary from gray to pale yellow or whitish and contrast sharply with the dark brown or black of the underparts. Completely black individuals, however, have been found in Africa, particularly in the Ituri Forest of northern Zaire. The color pattern of the honey badger has been interpreted as being a warning coloration, because it makes the animal easily recognizable. Females have two pairs of mammae.

The body is heavily built, the legs and tail are relatively short, the ears are small, and the muzzle is blunt. The large forefeet are armed with very large and strong claws. The hair is coarse and quite scant on the underparts. The skin is exceedingly loose on the body and very tough. The skull is massive, and the teeth are robust. There are anal glands that secrete a vile-smelling liquid. This combination of characters provides an effective system of deterrence and defense.

Mellivora is very difficult to kill. The skin is so tough that a dog can make little impression, except on the belly. The ratel can twist about in its skin, so it can even bite an adversary that has seized it by the back of the neck. Porcupine quills and bee stings have little effect, and snake fangs are rarely able to penetrate. Mellivora seems to be devoid of fear, and it is doubtful that any animal of equivalent size can regularly kill it. It may rush out from its burrow and charge an intruder, especially in the breeding season. Horses, antelope, cattle, and even buffalo have been attacked and severely wounded in this manner.

The honey badger occupies a variety of habitats, mainly in dry areas but also in forests and wet grasslands. It lives among rocks, in hollow logs or trees, and in burrows. Its powerful limbs and large claws make it a capable and rapid digger. It is primarily terrestrial but can climb, especially when attracted by honey. It travels by a jog-trot but is tireless and trails its prey until the prey is run to the ground. The diet includes small mammals, the young of large mammals, birds, reptiles, arthropods, carrion, and vegetation. Honey and bees are important foods at certain times of the year.

A remarkable association has developed, at least in tropical Africa, between a bird--the honey guide (Indicator indicator)--and Mellivora. The association is mutually beneficial in the common exploitation of the nests of wild bees. In the presence of any mammal, even people, the honey guide has the unusual habit of uttering a series of characteristic calls. If a honey badger hears these calls, it follows the bird, which invariably leads it to the vicinity of a beehive. The badger breaks open the nest, and the bird obtains enough of the honey and insects to pay for its work.

Mellivora may travel alone or in pairs. It is generally silent but may utter a very harsh, grating growl when annoyed. The sparse data on reproduction were summarized by Kingdon (1977), Rosevear (1974), and Smithers (1971). Mating has been noted in South Africa in February, June, and December. A lactating female was found in Botswana in November, and newborn were recorded in Zambia in December. Seasonal breeding has been reported in Turkmen S.S.R., with mating occurring in autumn and births in the spring. The gestation period is thought to last about 6 months. The number of young in a litter is commonly two, and the range is one to four. The young are born in a grass-lined chamber and evidently remain close to the burrow for a long time. Mellivora appears to thrive in captivity: one specimen lived for 26 years and 5 months (Jones 1982).

If captured before half-grown, the honey badger can become a satisfactory pet, as it is docile, affectionate, and active. It is, however, incredibly strong and energetic and can wreck cages and damage property in its explorations. Wild individuals sometimes prey on poultry, tearing through wire netting to effect entry (Smithers 1971). Destruction of commercial beehives in East Africa seems to be a significant problem, and Mellivora has thus been intensively poisoned, trapped, and hunted (Kingdon 1977). The overall range of the genus has declined, probably through human persecution. The ratel is classified as vulnerable in South Africa (Smithers 1986) and as rare by the Soviet Union.

Photo credit: Usenet Newsgroup alt.animals.badgers

Taxidea Taxus, the North American badger.

This is the scientific classification of the North American badger:

  • Kingdom: Animalia. All animals. Anything with legs, wings, fins, or cilia. Pretty much everything that isn't a plant or bacteria.
  • Phylum: Chordata. Animals with a notochord, closed blood system, and tail. (Including humans, who all have a tail at one point.)
  • Class: Mammalia. Animals with hair, breasts, and 3 bones in their ears.
  • Order: Carnivora. Most meat-eaters fall into this category.
  • Family: Mustelidae. The badger's relatives. Includes animals such as weasels, ferrets, mink, wolverines, skunks and otters.
  • Genus: Taxidea. Pretty much just North American badgers.
  • Species: Taxidea taxus. Hey! That's us! This is the species name of the North American badger.
There are at least 16 sub-species of badger in North America:

taxus, jacksoni, iowae, dacotensis, montana, merriami, kansuensis, berlandieri, littoralis, apache, sonoriensis, hallorani, halli, neglecta, jeffersoni and infusca.

Physical Description:

Large, robust, short-legged, wolverine-like body; broad and squat; tail short, thick and bushy, usually shorter than the outstretched hind legs; pelage long and shaggy, especially on back and sides; upper parts grizzled grayish-yellow in color; a distinct white stripe from near tip of nose back over top of head to shoulder area, also a white crescent on each side of face just back of eye and another at anterior base of ear, enclosing or outlining a large blackish area; snout and rest of head grayish or blackish; under parts yellowish-white; feet blackish; five toes on each foot; front feet large, with claws 25 mm or more in length; hind feet smaller, claws much shorter; skin extremely loose on the body; eyes and ears small; neck short. Dental formula: I 3/3, C 1/1, Pm 3/3, M 1/2 X 2 = 34. Young similar to adults in color and color pattern. External measurements of adult male: total length, 788 mm; tail, 133 mm; hind foot, 120 mm; female, 730-150-114 mm. Weight of adults, 4-10 kg, averaging about 7 kg. The oldest wild badger recorded was aged 14 years. The oldest in captivity was aged 26 years.

As suggested by the disproportionately long front claws, badgers are expert diggers and their short, powerful front legs can move earth with amazing speed. If threatened, a badger can dig a hole and disappear to safety in as little as one minute. There are also anecdotal accounts of badgers emerging from holes they have excavated through blacktopped pavement and two inch thick concrete. It is a common belief that badgers hibernate in winter, but such is not the case. They may sleep through several days of inclement weather, as do skunks and bears, subsisting on fat stored in the body but they do not experience the physiological changes characteristic of true hibernation; namely, considerably reduced rate of respiration and heart beat, lowered body temperature, and insensibility. They are frequently encountered in winter, particularly on mild days, and in the southern parts of their range they are active throughout the entire year. Badgers have few natural enemies other than man. They are ferocious fighters and are usually more than a match for any animal, including bear. The fur of the badger ordinarily does not command a high price and, because of this, relatively few are trapped. Data indicate that the population is now increasing except in those parts of the animalís range where poison is used ostensibly to reduce the population of coyotes. The badgerís chief value lies in helping to keep down excessive populations of rodents.

Feeding Habits
Badgers typically prey upon pocket gophers, ground squirrels, voles, grubs, mice, rabbits, reptiles and amphibians. They hunt these animals by digging them out of underground burrows. One eyewitness account has a badger outpacing three men with shovels. Only those ground-burrowing animals with multiple exits ever escape the badger's dinner table. An apparent favorite, and another natural adaptation put to use, is the rattlesnake. Venom from snake bites is deposited underneath the extremely loose-fitting fur where it's far less deadly. Unconfirmed reports suggest that badgers are at least partially immune to the venom as well. Their diet differs seasonally and geographically with prey availability, but basically any animal which lives in the ground is at risk.

Social Behavior
None. Badgers are extremely solitary animals, except during the mating season. Typical population density is about 5 animals per square kilometer. Males occupy larger home ranges than females (2.4 versus 1.6 square kilometers). Although badgers are known to fight amongst themselves, they usually avoid each other and honor the territories of other badgers. While it isn't known exactly how they communicate such boundaries, scent marking is thought to play a role. Being mustelididss, badgers have scent glands similar to a skunk's and they will discharge (but not spray) a musk-like odor when annoyed.

The reproduction in this species is quite interesting. Although mating occurs when female badgers enter estrous in late summer or early autumn (varying slightly with sub-species and latitude), embryos are arrested early in development. Embryos are held in a sort of suspended animation until December- February, when they implant into the uterine wall and resume their development. Thus, although a female is technically pregnant for 7 months, the embryos develop for a mere 6 weeks. Litters of 1-5 offspring are born in early spring. Females are able to mate when they are 4 months old, but males do not mate until the autumn of their second year. One to five (usually four) young are born per litter. At birth they are scantily furred and their eyes are closed. Their eyes open at about four weeks, and by eight weeks of age the young are weaned to solid food. From late August through September the offspring learn to hunt alone, and disperse from the female's home range. Video footage of badger copulation is available in the when gallery.

Gerrit S. Miller Jr., Remington Kellog, 1955; List of North American Recent Mammals; United States National Museum, Bulletin 205
"Badgers" by Ernest Neal & Chris Cheeseman. (Drawings by John Davies and Michael Clark.)
Hoffmeister, D.F., 1989. Mammals of Illinois. University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago.
Nowak, Ronald., 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
Corbet, G. B., 1978. The mammals of the Palaearctic Region: a taxonomic review. British Mus. (Nat. Hist.), London, 314 pp.
Lekagul, B., and J. A. McNeely. 1977. Mammals of Thailand. Sahakarnbhat, Bangkok, li + 758 pp.
Parker, C., 1979. Birth, care and development of Chinese hog badgers Arctonyx collaris albogularis at Metro Toronto Zoo. Internatl. Zoo Yearbook 19:182-85.
Long, C. A., and C. A. Killingley. 1983. The badgers of the world. Charles C. Thomas, Springfield, Ill., xxiv + 404 pp.
Grimwood, I., 1976. The Palawan stink badger. Oryx 13:297.
Novikov, G. A., 1962. Carnivorous mammals of the fauna of the U.S.S.R. Israel Progr. Sci. Transl., Jerusalem, 284 pp.
Grzimek, B., ed. 1975. Grzimek's animal life encyclopedia. Mammals, I-lV. Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, vols. 10-13.
Kruuk, H., 1978a. Spatial organization and territorial behaviour of the European badger, Meles meles. J. Zool. 184:1-19.
Kruuk, H., 1978b. Foraging and spatial organization of the European badger, Meles meles L. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 4:75-89.
Skoog, P., 1970. The food of the Swedish badger, Meles meles L. Viltrevy 7:1-120.
Ahnlund, H., 1980. Sexual maturity and breeding season of the badger, Meles meles, in Sweden. J. Zool. 190:77-95.
Canivenc, R., and M. Bonnin. 1979. Delayed implantation is under environmental control in the badger (Meles meles L.). Nature 278:849-50.
Jones, M. L. 1982. Longevity of captive mammals. Zool. Garten 52:113-28.
Clements, E. D., E. G. Neal, and D. W. Yalden. 1988. The national badger sett survey. Mamm. Rev. 18:1-9.
Long, C. A., 1978. A listing of Recent badgers of the world, with remarks on taxonomic problems in Mydaus and Melogale. Rept. Fauna and Flora Wisconsin, Univ. Wisconsin Mus. Nat. Hist., 14:1-6.
Zheng Yonglie and Xu Longhui. 1983. Subspecific study on the ferret badger (Melogale mosquata) in China, with description of a new subspecies. Acta Theriol. Sinica 3:165-71.
Meester, J., and H. W. Setzer. 1977. The mammals of Africa: an identification manual. Smithson. Inst. Press, Washington, D.C.
Kingdon, J., 1977. East African mammals. An atlas of evolution in Africa. III(A). Carnivores. Academic Press, London, viii + 475 pp.
Rosevear, D. R., 1974. The carnivores of West Africa. British Mus. (Nat. Hist.), London, xii + 548 pp.
Smithers, R. H. N., 1971. The mammals of Botswana. Trustees Natl. Museums and Monuments Rhodesia Mus. Mem., no. 4, 340 pp.
Smithers, R. H. N., 1986. South African red data book--terrestrial mammals. S. Afr. Natl. Sci. Programmes Rept., no. 125, ix + 216 pp.

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