Introduction to Badger

Badger, a rather short, thickset, fur-bearing mammal. Badgers have extremely powerful forelegs with long claws, which they use to dig their burrows. They are active mainly at night, when they leave their burrows to hunt for food. Badgers are named for the contrasting stripe of fur—the "badge"—on the forehead. The badge may be black or white, depending on the species.

BadgersBadgers have white and black markings on the head and face.

There are nine species of badgers: the American badger, the Eurasian badger, the hog badger, the honey badger, three species of ferret badgers, and two species of stink badgers. The best known and most widespread are the American and the Eurasian badgers.

How Can You Tell It’s a Badger?

A badger has a short, broad body and a short, bushy tail. It has long claws on its feet. Badgers generally have white and black markings on their head and face.

The American badger has gray or reddish fur and a white stripe running up from its nose. The Old World badger is usually gray on its back, but its underside and legs are black. It has a white face with two dark stripes that run up each side of its face, over its eyes.

What Is Special About a Badger’s Body?

Most badgers have a strong, stout body with short legs. Their front legs are especially strong. Their front paws are equipped with long, sharp claws for digging. Badgers need these digging tools because they often dig for their meals. Badgers also live underground and dig large burrows and tunnels.

Badgers have small eyes and ears. Their hearing is good. Their sense of smell is excellent compared to their other senses, but their eyesight is weak.

All badgers have glands near their rumps that produce a strong-smelling liquid called musk. Some types of badgers squirt out musk to drive away attackers. Badgers also use musk to mark their territory or to mark a scent trail to a source of food or other important places. That way they can find their way around using mainly their noses.

The American Badger

American badgers are found from southwestern Canada and the north-central United States south through the western United States into central Mexico. They usually inhabit dry, open country. The badgers range in length from about 16 to about 28 inches (40 to 70 cm), not including the tail, which may be from about 4 to about 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) long. Their upper parts are grayish to reddish with a white stripe extending from the nose to the shoulders. They have black patches on the face. The underparts are buff-colored.

American badgers feed on snakes, rodents, birds, insects, and carrion. They are skillful diggers; they use their claws to dig out prey and to burrow underground to protect themselves from predators. A litter of usually three young is born in the spring.

Although the burrows they dig can cause cattle and horses to trip and fall, American badgers are generally considered helpful because they destroy injurious animals. The fur of the badgers is used for trimmings and for a fur-making process called pointing. Pointing consists of glueing badger hairs onto other pelts.

What Is the “Partnership” Between Coyotes and American Badgers?

Throughout Canada, the United States, and Mexico, people have observed an odd relationship between badgers and coyotes.

Both coyotes and badgers eat small burrowing animals, such as ground squirrels and prairie dogs. The coyote can chase the squirrels and catch them if they are running around aboveground. The badger, on the other hand, is not fast enough to catch a running ground squirrel. If the ground squirrel is hiding in its burrow, however, it may be safe from the coyote—but not from the badger. The badger can easily dig into a ground squirrel burrow.

A coyote sometimes will watch a badger as it digs for prey. While the badger digs, the prey may run out of its burrow as it tries to escape. Once out in the open, the prey becomes an easy meal for the coyote. Coyotes and badgers do not hunt together in the cooperative sense, but coyotes do benefit from the activities of badgers.

The Eurasian Badger

Like the American badgers, Eurasian badgers are excellent diggers. They are found in both Europe and Asia, usually in wooded regions. These badgers are from about 20 to about 32 inches (50 to 80 cm) long, not including the tail, which may be from about 4 1/2 to about 8 inches (11 to 20 cm) long. The upper parts are grayish and the underparts, legs, and feet are black. The head is marked with wide, alternating black and white stripes.

Eurasian badgers are not solitary—many families may live together in a large network of burrows. Although the mainstays of their diet are worms, insects, and young rabbits, they also eat roots, fruit, and seeds. The young, usually two to four, are born in the spring. The hairs of Eurasian badgers are used in making various kinds of brushes.

In England during the early 19th century, Eurasian badgers were used in a cruel sport called "badger baiting." The badgers were put in a barrel or hole, then dogs were pushed in to drag them out. (Thus "to badger" came to mean to tease or harass.) The badgers would fight fiercely, even though in a hopeless situation.

What Goes On in Old World Badger Families?

Old World badgers live together in a group called a clan. Clans are usually made up of about 10 animals, including adults and young. Each clan usually has a few adult males, or boars, a few adult females, or sows, and a few young, called cubs. When the young males are mature, they usually leave to join other clans. Young females usually stay with their birth clans.

Old World badgers use the scent from their musk glands to recognize each other. Each badger’s musk smells a bit different. When all the badgers in a clan put their musk on one another, their scents get mixed together. As a result, each clan has its own unique scent. Each clan member bears the scent of the clan as well as its own scent. That is how Old World badgers recognize members of their own clan.

Where in the World Do Badgers and Other Mustelids Live?

Badgers can be found in Asia, Europe, and North America.

American badgers live in southwestern Canada, in the United States from the West Coast to the Midwest, and south to central Mexico. They make their homes mostly in dry country or grasslands with few trees.

Old World badgers live throughout Europe and in northern Asia. Old World badgers prefer to live in forested areas.

Ferret badgers, hog badgers, and stink badgers live in the mountains and forests of southeastern Asia. And, although not a true badger, a similar mustelid that is known as the ratel, or honey badger, can be found in Africa.

The Daily Badger

How Does a Badger Defend Itself?

Badgers, like most animals, will first try to get away when attacked. They cannot run fast, but they can dig their way to safety at a surprising speed.

They may also try to frighten an attacker by fluffing up their own fur, hissing or growling, and baring their teeth. All badgers make smelly musk that may be released to defend against an attacker, but stink badgers can squirt their musk at an attacker. If an animal attacks one of these badgers and gets blasted with burning, stinking musk, that animal will think twice before it attacks a stink badger again.

If none of these actions drives off the attacker, badgers can fight back with their strong jaws and powerful teeth. They can give an attacker a nasty bite. Badgers also have tough, loose skin. Because the skin is so loose, the badger can twist around and bite the attacker, even if the attacker has the badger’s skin in a tight hold by the teeth.

Are Badgers Meat-eaters?

Badgers are included in a group named carnivores (KAHR nuh vawrz), which means “meat-eaters.” But, badgers and many other animals in this group are actually omnivores (OM nuh vawrz), or animals that eat both meat and plants.

One of the Old World badger’s favorite meals is a fat, wriggly earthworm. Why? One reason is that earthworms come to the surface at night, when badgers are out hunting for food. An earthworm in the grass is easy for a badger to gobble up, much easier than digging for rodents. On a damp night, earthworms are plentiful, and a badger can eat its fill with very little effort. Earthworms are also a great source of nutrients.

In What Kind of Home Does a Badger Live?

All species of badgers live underground, in burrows. But not all badger burrows are alike. Ferret badgers, hog badgers, and stink badgers dig simple burrows. These burrows have one chamber that is large enough for a badger to sleep in or to allow for a mother badger to give birth and care for her young.

The burrows of American badgers may have a few side tunnels branching off the main tunnel. American badgers also may dig several separate burrows in different parts of their large territory. They move from one burrow to another. Old World badgers, however, dig the most amazing burrows, called setts. Setts can spread over many acres, and may have over 80 entrances. Most setts, however, have about 10 entrances.

How Does a Badger Dig?

Badgers carefully choose the place for their burrows. They like to dig their burrows on the side of a slope. This helps water drain away and keeps the burrow dry. The largest burrows are dug in places with soft soil where it is easy to dig. Often, badgers simply enlarge old burrows by digging new tunnels that connect with old ones. They’ll also enlarge the abandoned burrows of other animals, such as rabbits.

The badger uses its strong claws to break up the earth. When it has broken up a small pile of dirt, the badger scoots backward out of the tunnel, pushing the soil with its back legs as it goes. Then it kicks this loose soil into a pile outside of the burrow. Badgers can even push, drag, or carry heavy rocks out of the tunnel.

What Is It Like Inside a Sett?

The setts of Old World badgers are like underground apartment complexes. These setts are made up of lots of connected tunnels. The tunnels provide a way for badgers to travel safely underground. Wider areas within the tunnels, called chambers, provide places where badgers can sleep, give birth, and raise their young. Badgers drag dried grass, moss, leaves, or ferns into the chambers to make cozy beds. Year after year, badgers add new chambers and tunnels to their setts. In Europe, some badger setts are more than 100 years old.

Badgers keep their setts clean. They relieve themselves in areas outside of the sett. And, every once in a while, the badgers drag their bedding out of the chambers and let it air out in the sun. In addition to their underground homes, Old World badgers occasionally create aboveground nests. These areas are often located near sources of food. They are full of nesting material and are used as temporary resting places.

How Do Baby Badgers Grow?

American and Old World badger cubs are born in the late winter or spring. They are usually born in litters of two or three. They are blind and covered with a thin coat of silvery fur. The mother badger nurses her babies—that is, she feeds them with milk from her body—for the first several weeks of their life. The cubs open their eyes after about a month.

As her cubs grow, an Old World badger mother starts to feed them by bringing up chewed food from her stomach for them to eat. An American badger mother, on the other hand, will bring back dead prey for her young to eat. Soon, the cubs are ready to leave their home. At first they stay near the entrance. Then they start to explore farther from the burrow or sett, learning how to find food.

By the time Old World badgers are about 4 months old, they can take care of themselves. American badgers do not live in clans, and the young leave their mother after they are about 2 months old.

Why Are Mustelids So Smelly?

Most mustelids produce smelly musk. They use it mainly to mark their territory. Badgers, for example, mark their food-finding routes with musk so they can find their way around easily. Wolverines mark stashes of food with their musk so other animals will not want to eat it.

Mustelids also use musk for self-defense. The smell of skunks’ and stink badgers’ musk is really strong. These animals can spray their musk a distance of several feet. For example, when a striped skunk is being attacked, it gives plenty of warning before it sprays. It stamps its feet and raises its fur and tail. Then it bends its body so that its face and rump are both facing its enemy. If the enemy is not scared by this display, the striped skunk sprays a stream of musk. The bad smell can travel for more than a mile. If the musk gets into another animal’s eyes, it causes burning pain. If breathed in, it can make a predator sick.

How Do Mustelids Have Fun?

Many mustelids are playful, especially when they are young. Play is important to animals that hunt for their food. It helps them learn such skills as tracking and catching prey.

Otters and badgers get the prize for being the most playful members of the family. River otters wrestle and romp together. They splash around in the water and chase one another. Otters love to slide. In the summer, they slide down mudbanks on their bellies. In the winter, they slide down snowbanks and scurry through snow tunnels.

Badgers are very playful, too, especially the cubs. They seem to enjoy games of chase and play-fighting, with much nipping, growling, and tumbling around. They also have been seen playing the badger version of king-of-the-hill. In king-of-the-hill, one badger stands on a log or small mound of earth and another tries to knock it off. They also play with objects, such as cans and other human-made objects, that they may find.

What Are the Enemies of These Animals?

Badgers and their relatives hunt and feed on all sorts of small animals, including rattlesnakes. But some kinds of animals happily eat mustelids for dinner. So mustelids have to be on the lookout for bobcats, bears, wolves, foxes, cougars, and birds of prey, such as hawks and eagles.

Badger relatives that are active at night, such as skunks, weasels, and martens, are hunted by owls. Eagles and hawks kill ferrets, weasels, minks, and the babies of badgers and all their relatives.

Badgers belong to the family Mustelidae. The American badger is Taxidea taxus; the European, Meles meles.