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"It was rather like having a baby in the house again. At first I fed him every three hours, night and day, although I was soon able to cut out the nightly feeds and, as his tummy grew bigger, give proportionately more by day. He loved his bottle and would put his two tiny forepaws round the neck of it as he sucked lustily to the last drop."
From Page 19 of Brocky the Badger by Sylvia Shepherd

Badger Clans

Although a few badgers live alone, most live together in groups of between 2 and 20 individuals. A group of badgers living together is called a clan (or sometimes a cete). A clan is usually made up of several adults and their cubs. A typical clan may have about 6 badgers.

The clan will normally occupy a single sett - which might be quite large. However, the sett may also include other subsidiary setts, which are used from time to time - for example by nursing mothers, or badgers who are allowed to live nearby on the periphery of the clan society.

In the clan, badgers are definitely "group-living" animals, but they do have a "pecking order" in the hierarchy. Mostly, the clan will be dominated by a single adult male (called a boar), who will try and control all the females (called sows) for breeding purposes. As young boars grow bigger, they will try and rise up the pecking order to become the dominant boar. This process will result in many of the younger badgers being ejected from the clan, and they will either have to force their way into a nearby clan, to form their own clan or to live alone. Sows also have their own pecking order, and will try and rise up the hierarchy to become the senior sow. It is believed that fewer females are ejected from the clan.

Members of a clan can recognise each other by their smell. The badger has a special opening (called the subcaudal gland) under its tail, which produces a smelly liquid called musk. This musk is a soapy cream-coloured fatty substance (a bit like margarine in colour and texture). To a badger, with a highly sophisticated sense of smell, every badger smells slightly different. Members of a clan mark each other with this musk; when they do this we say that badgers are musking or setting scent. By "swapping smells" like this, each badger ends up with a smell that is special to his or her clan. Accordingly, each badger has their own unique smell, plus the common odour of the clan.

Importantly, though, badgers don't just use their musk to mark each other. They also stop from time-to-time on their travels to leave scent on the ground. This helps the badgers to find their way around their territory using their sense of smell. In this way, badgers find it easier to follow regular trails to and from good feeding grounds, as well as avoiding encroaching on territories of other neighbouring badger clans.

The subcaudal musk gland is about 2.5 times larger in males than in females; and contains 4 times as much musk as the same gland in females. It is assumed that as well as using the musk to create an overall clan odour, dominant males use this to "claim" other badgers as being in their clan. In females, the scent provided by their subcaudal gland may change throughout the year - probably indicating whether they are receptive to mating.

Badgers also have an additional pair of scent glands, which produce a dark brown fatty fluid which has a powerful and rank musky smell. This pair of glands is located just inside the bottom (anus).

Both these types of scent are used to denote membership of the clan; and to mark the territory/range as belonging to that particular clan; and hopefully deterring other badgers from coming in to steal food or mate with females.

If a badger leaves the clan it quickly loses its distinctive "clan" smell. This is a great problem for animal rescuers, as they need to rescue an injured animal, get it treated at a vets, repaired, recuperated and returned to the clan as soon as possible. Delays of as little as 24-hours can cause problems. On return to the clan, if the badger is missing its expected clan smell it will be dealt with as though it is an outsider. It will probably be bullied by other badgers, and possibly ejected from the clan or killed by other badgers.

Sometimes rescuers can get a badger back to the clan in good time. During the rescue they will try and avoid imparting any of their human smell on to the badger. If this is not possible, and there is a real risk of the badger being rejected, it might be possible to "puppy-walk" the badger around the territory, so the clan gets used to its smell once again. This will make it a little more likely the other badgers will treat the returning badger kindly, and not as a threatening intruder.

The other option is to place a rescued badger into a new sett. This is easiest where there is an existing empty sett, and you can place a group of rescued badgers into it as a new clan.


Sometimes people often get confused between the name of a group of badgers.

  • The badgers which live together as a family-type group is called a clan.
  • The collective noun for a group of badgers is a cete.

Academic Note:

Journal of Animal Behaviour - Volume 97 No 1/2 - May 1986

Scent Marking with Faeces and Anal Secretion in the European Badger (Meles meles): Seasonal and Spatial Characteristics of Latrine Use in Relation to Territoriality

T. J. Roper, D. J. Shepherdson and J. M. Davies

© 1986 BRILL.

Abstract Badgers

(Meles meles) defecate and scent mark in open pits ('dung pits') which seem to have territorial significance. We carried out a year-round survey of badger defecation sites in order to assess seasonal and spatial characteristics of site use. Our results show that badgers defecate at two different types of site, which we refer to as 'latrines' and 'temporary defecation sites' (TDS's) respectively. Latrines are relatively large aggregations of dung pits (up to 25 separate pits) that are visited year-round; they are largest in spring (April) and autumn (October); they are more numerous around the perimeter of a territory; they are associated with fences and roads; and they often contain anal-gland secretion as well as faeces. TDS's, by contrast, are single dung pits or small aggregations of pits that are used only once or twice and are then abandoned; they are most numerous in mid-winter (December and January); they are scattered throughout the territory both close to and away from fences and roads; and they do not usually contain anal secretion. Spatial and seasonal changes in frequency of TDS's are shown to correlate with food availability and with foraging behaviour, and we conclude that TDS's have no special function beyond elimination of faeces. Latrines, however, do seem to have communicatory significance, and we conclude that they are concerned with territory defence. Since seasonal changes in latrine use correlate more closely with mating than with food availability we suggest that territoriality in badgers may be related more to defence of oestrus females by resident males than to defence of food resources.

Academic Note:

Journal of Zoology Volume 237 Issue 2, Pages 227 - 239

Dispersal and philopatry in the European badger, Meles meles

Rosie Woodroffe* , 1 , D. W. Macdonald 1 and J. da Silva** , 1 1 Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK
*Department of Zoology, Downing Street, Combridge CB 23EJ, UK
**Department of Biology, Laurentian University, Ramsey Lake Road, Sudbury, Ontario P3E 2C6, Canada

Copyright 1995 The Zoological Society of London ABSTRACT

In comparison with other carnivores, European badgers, Meles meles L., show an unusually high degree of natal philopatry. In this paper, we present data on temporary and permanent movements between groups, in both male and female badgers, in a moderately high density population. A relatively small proportion of males dispersed, alone, to neighbouring territories. Dispersing males were larger than those remaining in their natal groups, and following dispersal they had higher testosterone titres and maintained testicular activity for a greater part of the year. Circumstantial evidence suggests that immigrants were the principal breeding males in their new territories. Dispersal was slightly more common in females, which dispersed away from large groups, where their chances of breeding were relatively low. Females dispersed in coalitions of 2–3, over longer distances, to territories occupied by single females. Resident females disappeared following the arrival of the immigrants, suggesting that territory 'takeovers' may have occurred. Members of both sexes also made temporary 'visits' to neighbouring territories, probably to obtain extra-group matings. Comparison with other badger populations suggests that the frequency of male dispersal declines at high population densities. In contrast, there is no effect of density on female dispersal, which occurs only rarely in some other populations. We suggest that the pattern of female/female competition is too complex to be explained solely in terms of variation in population density.

Academic Note:

Mammal Review Volume 18 Issue 1, Pages 51 - 59

Comparison of dispersal and other movements in two Badger (Meles meles) populations

C. L. CHEESEMAN 1 , W. J. CRESSWELL*, S. HARRIS* , † P. J. MALLINSON 1 1 Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Worplesdon Laboratory, Tangley Place, Worplesdon, Guildford, Surrey GU3 3LQ *Department of Zoology, University of Bristol, Woodland Road, Bristol BS81UG †To whom correspondence should be addressed.

Copyright 1988 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and The Mammal Society


The dispersal and other movement patterns in two Badger populations, one in rural Gloucestershire and the other in suburban Bristol, are described and categorized into nine different types of movement. Movements were less common in the high density Badger population in Gloucestershire, but disturbance increased the likelihood of movements occurring. In the lower density Bristol population, where the social structure was more fluid, movements were more common. However, in both populations truly itinerant Badgers appeared to be rare. More male than female Badgers moved, but for each type of movement there was no difference in the distance moved by males and females. Movements were rare in animals less than a year old; most movements occurred in sexually mature animals, i.e. those more than 2 years old.