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Animal of the month: nine facts about badgers

Badgers are short, stocky mammals that are part of the Mustelidae family. Although badgers are found in Africa, Eurasia, and North America, these animals are possibly best-known from their frequent appearance in literature, such as “Badger” from The Wind in the Willows and Hufflepuff’s house animal in the Harry Potter series, and for being a 2003 internet sensation. But a part from recognizing badgers in books and Youtube videos, what do you know about these animals?

For the month of November, we’re celebrating badgers – starting with nine interesting facts about these popular musteloids.

  1. While badgers are known for living in burrows, European badgers dig the most complex dens, or “setts”, which are passed down from one badger generation to the next. The largest sett excavated was 879 m (0.54miles) of tunnels, and had 129 entrances.
  2. Despite typically being a solitary animal, some badgers have been known to live in symbiosis with other animals when foraging for food. In particular, the honey badger and a small bird called the black-throated honey guide work together. When the bird discovers a hive, it will search for a badger and guide it with its song to the hive. The honey badger will then open the hive with its claws, so it can feed on honeycomb, while the bird eats bee larvae and wax.
  3. While badgers are found on several continents, Eurasian badgers are the most widespread mustelids, with their habitat ranging from the British Isles to South China.
  4. Climate change has been impacting badger populations. Milder winters brought on by global warming can lead to an increase in badger populations, where as reduction in rainfall can have a negative impact on cub survival rates.
    A female American Badger about four years old at the Oxbow Zollman Zoo in Olmsted County, Minnesota by Jonathunder. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
  5. One of the most comprehensive, long-term studies of medium sized carnivores anywhere in the world focuses on badgers. This study, which is located in Wytham Woods in Oxford, was started in 1972 and is still on-going today.
  6. Despite usually being solitary creatures, a past study shows that European badgers may partition the collective responsibility of marking their territories through latrine use. Patterns of latrine use showed that individual badgers did not defecate at the section closest to where they happened to be active, but rather according to a pattern resulting in comprehensive, regular group coverage of their territory border.
  7. Badgers are omnivores, eating a diet of insects, plants, and small vertebrates (such as rabbits, ground squirrels, hedgehogs, prairie dogs, and gophers). European badgers are particularly dependent upon earthworms, and have been known to eat several hundred in one night.
  8. In the United Kingdom, badgers have been known to transmit bovine tuberculosis (bTB) to cattle. Badger culling, an attempt to control the disease in cattle by killing badgers, has been among the most controversial issues in wildlife disease management globally.
  9. Recent studies have shown that badgers are substantially more fearful of humans than of their extant or extinct carnivore predators. Badgers’ reactions in response to audio recordings of bear, wolf, dog, and humans were tested and showed that badgers delayed foraging when they heard dog or bear recordings, but they would completely refrain from foraging until the human audio playbacks were completely off.

Featured image credit: Badger photo by Hans Veth. CC0 public domain via Unsplash

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