The Daily Badger
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.