This is the state animal of Wisconsin. In territorial times, miners would dig themselves homes into the sides of hills, out of dirt. This gave inhabitants of the United States' 30th state their nickname. Today, University of Wisconsin Madison sports teams call themselves the Badgers.

A badger is any member of a number of species of omnivorous mammals, which are found in North America, Europe and Asia. Most information in this write-up concerns the Eurasian badger (Meles meles), which is the largest carnivore in Britain and ranges across Europe and large regions of Asia. However, at the end the American badger (Taxidea taxus) is briefly described.

Classification

There are 6 species of badger in subfamily Melinae (true badgers):

There is also one other badger not in Melinae: Outwith the badger family, all species are most closely related to the weasel, stoat, marten, ferret and pole cat.

Eurasian badger (Meles meles)

Appearance

The Eurasian badger is typically 90 cm (3 ft) long, weighing about 10 - 15 kg (22 - 33 lb). The male (called a boar) is slightly larger than the female (or sow). They have a flattened body and a short tail, around 10cm (4 in) long. Their most well known distinguishing mark is the black and white stripes running up their face; the precise patterning varies between populations over their considerable range of habitation. They also have small rounded ears, and their grey pelt is made up of coarse black and white hairs over a brownish-yellow undercoat. The badger has small, powerful legs with long claws, used for digging, and five toes on each foot. Every species of badger has 34 teeth.

Range and habitat

The Eurasian badger has a wide range in temperate Europe and Asia, running from Britain and Ireland throughout Europe except the far northern parts of Scandinavia and Russia. In Asia its range extends from the Middle East, across central Asia and China right to Korea and Japan, although they are not native to south or south-east Asia, or cold Siberia.

They can be found in a variety of habitats: forests, arable land, pasture, moorland, and coastal areas, and in Europe they tend to make their homes in sloping woodland.

Living arrangements

Eurasian badgers live in social groups called clans, inhabiting tunnel systems known as setts. Setts tend to have several entrances, and the tunnels, which are circular with flattened floors, are at least 20 cm (8 in) wide. Setts can be used for many years, possibly centuries.

The typical design of a sett is with a number of large chambers for sleeping, and smaller chambers used for defecation, and there may also be ventilation holes to let air circulate. One sett excavated in England had 310 m (1017 ft) of tunnels, and the badgers had dug out around 25 tonnes (56000 lb) of soil. Tunnels run from 1 to 4 metres below ground, typically following the slope of the land. However, smaller setts may just have one or 2 rooms. Badgers line their tunnels with moss and other foliage.

Clans typically contain 4 to 12 adults, together with their offspring, and are led by a dominant boar and sow. The badgers occasionally fight to establish a pecking order, and may give each other vicious bites; the young are sometimes driven off to find new homes.

Badgers can be territorial in regions with large populations, keeping fixed ranges and marking their territories with latrine pits, and by marking with their scent glands. They may stand on their forepaws and rub their backsides against a tree in order to mark it with their anal scent glands. Odours are also used to mark paths and help them navigate in the dark.

Badgers do not hibernate, but in winter may sleep for lengthy periods in colder places, and can stay underground for weeks at a time.

Reproduction

Badgers mate in February, but unusually among mammals the development of the fetus is suspended, and the young are not born until the following year. The fertilised eggs develop into blastocysts, balls of cells, following copulation, and these remain inert in the uterus (womb) until they implant in the uterine wall in late December or January. After 6 or 7 weeks further gestation, the young badgers (called cubs) are born, with the first half of February being the most common time for giving birth.

The size of the litter can range from 1 to 6 cubs, but is typically 2 or 3. The young are born blind and hairless, less than 13 cm (5 in) long, and are suckled below ground for about 8 weeks. After this time they get the use of their eyes, and are able to venture above ground; usually in late April or May. The young are playful, chasing and play-fighting, and they will become sexually mature at 12 to 15 months.

Feeding

Badgers are omnivores, feeding opportunistically on whatever food source is available. Their diet may include small mammals, carrion, insects, worms and other invertebrates, vegetables, fruit, nuts, roots, grains. In western Europe their main food is the earthworm, which they find in long grass (either cattle pasture, or in urban areas in parks and playing fields).

The badger has poor eyesight, but excellent smell and hearing. They are nocturnal, and hunt and move at night, although they may emerge in quiet areas during the day. They can dig out animals dwelling underground, such as rabbits, and may block off other entrances from rabbit warrens before tunnelling their way in.

Lifespan and predators

The average lifespan of a wild badger is 3 years, although they can live 5 to 8 years in the wild, and up to 15 in captivity. Common causes of death include starvation and disease, as well as the actions of man.

The predators faced by the badger depend upon its habitat. In the UK, adults face no natural predators, although cubs may be attacked by foxes and birds of prey. Elsewhere adults can be killed by wolves, lynx, wolverines and eagle owls.

The badger has a number of defences for when it is attacked. It has tough skin, which slides over its body making it difficult for predators to get a grip. When attacked, the badger will try to retreat underground, but if it cannot escape, it will curl up and cover its face with its paws. However, it also has powerful jaws and can inflict nasty bites.

Human threats

Like most animals, badgers are threatened by human habitation. Although they can be found dwelling in suburban areas, they often fall victim to traffic accidents. And they are widely hunted in Britain and used in bloodsports, as well as being accidentally killed by people hunting and trapping foxes or rabbits.

Badger baiting is an exceptionally cruel so-called sport in which fighting dogs are set on the badger in a small arena or pit. Badger baiting was made illegal in the UK in 1835, but still continues. When attacked, the badger tends to curl up, and the dogs grab the badger by the head and try to shake it. It can take over an hour for the badger to cease resistance, at which point it is beaten to death.

Badger digging is how badgers are typically captured for baiting. A short-legged terrier is sent into the badger sett to flush out the badger (dachshunds were bred for this purpose). The dog will not attack the badger, but keeps close, and its barking allows men to locate it and dig down to catch the badger. Nowadays, radio transmitters are often attached to the dog to allow it to be located.

Lamping is the hunting of badgers at night with bright lights, sometimes using dogs. The lamper may use one two specially bred dogs, often greyhounds crossed with other dogs to make them more intelligent or vicious: deerhound, alsatian, wolfhound, border collie or terrier. Dogs can easily outrun a badger, and once taken the badger will be captured for baiting, shot or beaten to death. When hunted, badgers are killed for fun or as trophies rather than for meat.

Culling. Thousands of badgers have been slaughtered in Britain in the past 25 years in an attempt to combat tuberculosis in cattle. The evidence for the utility of culling is disputed, however: only a small percentage of badgers are infected, and even those may have caught it from cows, rather than vice versa. At first the badgers were gassed in their setts, but this proved ineffective, and hunters switched to trapping and shooting.

Conservation

Badgers occasionally cause damage to human property. They can uproot vegetables and cause crop damage, and sometimes dig up suburban lawns in search of earthworms. Their tunnels can also undermine roads, and it is quite common for roadmakers to construct tunnels for badgers to pass underneath the road surface.

However, they also have beneficial effects: they dig out wasps' nests and rabbits, and for that they are appreciated by forresters. Although the badger does not have the cute appearance of other woodland creatures, there are organisations such as the National Federation of Badger Groups (NFBG) in Britain campaigning for badger conservation.

Badger lore

One old name for the badger in Britain is Brock.

In superstition it was good luck for a badger to cross your path behind you, but bad to see one in front, or for it to dig in front of you; this, like hearing a badger cry and then an owl cry, presaged death.


American badger

The American badger is similar in appearance to the Eurasian. They are typically 76-89 cm (30-35 in) in length, weighing 5.4 - 7.3 kg (12 - 16 lb). Their coloration resembles their Eurasian cousins, with grayish outer fur and tan or white underfur, and a white stripe up the centre of their face. However, the Eurasian badger's face is longer and narrower than the American badger.

American badgers mate in August or September, but as with Eurasian badgers, the fetus lies dormant for several months, and is usually born in April after a gestation period of 250 days but only 50 days actual growth. Litters range from 2 to 7 cubs, with 3 the most common number. Females care for the young by themselves, and the young move out around August. As with the European badger, it does not hibernate.

One main difference is that while the Eurasian badgers are social, Americans are not (possibly reflecting the individualistic character of the inhabitants of the USA?) They are territorial, typically keeping an area of 3 to 4 square miles. They tend to have a number of dens spread out over the territory, which they may share their dens with foxes or coyotes, and there are claims that in 1871 a Canadian boy shared a den with a badger.

Again perhaps mimicking its human compatriots, the American badger is mainly carnivorous, more so than other species. It digs out chipmunks, groundhogs, squirrels, mice and rabbits; and also eats snakes, carrion, and other animals.

Their range extends over the western and central US, and into southern Canada, but it is not usually found in the southwest or eastern US. The American badger is the fastest digging animal in the world - and one has even been observed digging through asphalt in a parking lot.


A poem about badger-baiting, by English poet John Clare, written 1835-37.

The Badger

When midnight comes a host of dogs and men
Go out and track the badger to his den,
And put a sack within the hole and lie
Till the old grunting badger passes by.
He comes and hears - they let the strongest loose.
The old fox hears the noise and drops the goose.
The poacher shoots and hurries from the cry,
And the old hare half wounded buzzes by.

They get a fork-ed stick to bear him down
And clap the dogs and take him to the town,
And bait him all the day with many dogs,
And laugh and shout and fright the scampering hogs.
He runs along and bites at all he meets:
They shout and hollo down the noisy streets.

He turns about to face the loud uproar
And drives the rebels to their very door.
The frequent stone is hurled wher'er they go;
When badgers fight, then everyone's a foe.
The dogs are clapped and urged to join the fray;
The badger turns and drives them all away.
Though scarcely half as big, demure and small,
He fights with dogs for hours and beats them all.
The heavy mastiff, savage in the fray,
Lies down and licks his feet and turns away.
The bulldog knows his match and waxes cold
The badger grins and never leaves his hold.
He drives the crowd and follows at their heels
And bites them through - the drunkard swears and reels.

The frighted women take the boys away,
The blackguard laughs and hurries on the fray.
He tries to reach the woods, an awkward race,
But sticks and cudgels quickly stop the chase.
He turns again and drives the noisy crowd
And beats the many dogs in noises loud.
He drives away and beats them every one,
And then they loose them all and set them on.
He falls as dead and kicked by boys and men,
Then starts and grins and drives the crowd again;
Till kicked and torn and beaten out he lies
And leaves his hold and crackles, groans and dies.


Sources:

  • National Federation of Badger Groups, http://www.nfbg.org.uk/
  • Badger Organisation, "Badger Info - Eurasian Badger", http://badgerinfo.com/eurasianbadger.html
  • Badger Organisation, "Badger Info - American Badger", http://badgerinfo.com/americanbadger.html
  • Steve Burnett, "Badgers, Badgers and More Badgers", http://www.neverwhere.org/~steve/personal/badgers.html
  • Steve Jackson, "Badger Pages: The Eurasian Badger", http://www.badgers.org.uk/badgerpages/eurasian-badger.html

Badg"er (?), n. [Of uncertain origin; perh. fr. an old verb badge to lay up provisions to sell again.]

An itinerant licensed dealer in commodities used for food; a hawker; a huckster; -- formerly applied especially to one who bought grain in one place and sold it in another.

[Now dialectic, Eng.]

 

© Webster 1913.


Badg"er, n. [OE. bageard, prob. fr. badge + -ard, in reference to the white mark on its forehead. See Badge,n.]

1.

A carnivorous quadruped of the genus Meles or of an allied genus. It is a burrowing animal, with short, thick legs, and long claws on the fore feet. One species (M. vulgaris), called also brock, inhabits the north of Europe and Asia; another species (Taxidea Americana or Labradorica) inhabits the northern parts of North America. See Teledu.

2.

A brush made of badgers' hair, used by artists.

Badger dog. Zool. See Dachshund.

 

© Webster 1913.


Badg"er, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Badgered ();p. pr. & vb. n. Badgering.] [For sense 1, see 2d Badger; for 2, see 1st Badger.]

1.

To tease or annoy, as a badger when baited; to worry or irritate persistently.

2.

To beat down; to cheapen; to barter; to bargain.

 

© Webster 1913.

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