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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

Abebooks.co.uk

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 main sett - which might be quite large - and this will normally towards the centre of their territory. However, the sett may also include other subsidiary setts, which are used from time-to-time - for example by nursing mothers, or badgers who live nearby on the periphery of the clan society.

Dominance

Within each clan, there are usually one or more lines of hierarchy or dominance between badgers.

The clan is usually dominated by a single adult male (boar) - normally an older larger boar. If there are multiple females of breeding age, they may have their own hierachy (subordinate to the males); with the most senior female being the one which is most likely to breed successfully and produce cubs. In large clans, sometimes two (or very rarely three) females will produce cubs, but this is a very rare event.

Dominance may also extent to feeding behaviour. If two or more badgers come across a food item, the more dominant animal is likely to try to seize the food item for itself. This is why you sometimes see badger carry food off away from the group so they can be more certain of eating it, without it being stolen away from them.

Minor arguments may develop between badgers when feeding together; sometimes with some shoulder barging and minor growling/aggression taking place. Serious fights rarely seem to develop over food.

Badgers (especially males) may fight to achieve dominance over the group; or to deter an intruding badger which is perceived to be a danger. These fights seem to happen more frequently in areas of high badger density; and older male badger tend to show more rump injuries than younger animals. It seems very likely that such fights develop either in the defence of their territories or in defence of their females or in response to other social tensions (such as overcrowding).

These fights can be savage affairs, sometimes starting with damage to muzzles and necks, often turning into major fights which cause significant injuries to the rump and back (above the tail). Bite marks on the rump can be a simple as minor puncture wounds or be as serious as large wounds which discharge infected fluids (pus). These bite wounds can often penetrate deep into and even through the lower layers of the skin, and provide multiple points where infection can enter. On some occasions, these bite injuries can result in large open wounds which look terrible to the untrained human eye. A skilled experience vet may be able to treat such wounds if there is expert help on hand to capture the injured badger in a suitable rescue cage. However, badgers seem to have a powerful immune response and many badgers cope very well with wounds which may be lethal in different animal species. Eventually, assuming the wound heals itself (or is managed under veterinary care), the wound can turn into very thick scar tissue which may have less dense hair growth. Apart from the badger appearing to have a partly bare bottom; the scar tissue may then provide some additional protection in future fights. 

Dispersal

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 (boar, who will try and control all the females (sows) for breeding purposes. As young boars grow bigger, they may try and rise up the pecking order to become the dominant boar. This process will result in some of the younger badgers leaving or 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 may also try and rise up the hierarchy to become the senior sow. It is believed that fewer females are ejected from the clan, but some may leave voluntarily.

When badgers leave their original (also known as natal) clan, this is known as dispersal. The most common age at which this happens is at about 2 years of age; and the likelihood an animal will leave is generally related to how stable the clan is as a group. The more stable the habitat and social dynamics of the clan, the less likely dispersal becomes. There has been a long term study of badgers around Oxford, and scientists have discovered that males have a greater tendency to disperse than females. They also found that 36% of individual badgers never left their original clan. There was also some evidence that, in some circumstances, sows may leave the clan in coalitions of two or three animals. In terms of how far animals actually went; the overwhelming majority of animals moved no more that two or three home ranges away. In other words; of those badgers who disperse, more or less all of them remain within about 3km of their birthplace.

Note that dispersal is the process by which a badger moves from one family clan to a different family clan on a permanent basis. This is different from when a badger temporarily goes into the territory of a different clan for short periods of time to mate. Due to relatively low dispersal distances, it seems clear that, at the local level, badgers may be heavily inter-bred. This may be why there is some anecdotal evidence that people have seen examples of erythristic (red/brown) or albino (white) badgers more commonly in certain places.

Common Scent

Members of a clan can recognise each other by their smell. The badger has a special opening (called the subcaudal musk 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). Each badger has its own unique combination of chemicals in its own musk; so it will have its own unique smell. Hence, to a badger, with a highly sophisticated sense of smell, every badger smells slightly different. However, the different scents given off by all the badgers within the clan seem to be more similar to one another than the scent given off by badgers from outside the clan. The scents differ between males and females; as well as during different seasons of the year and when each individual badgers is receptive for mating. A keen badger will be able to tell a lot about another badger by the scent that it gives off.

Badgers also smear their own scent on to other badgers in the clan - this process is known as allomarking.

Most or all the members of a clan will be marked with the musk of the dominant male badger. He does this, it is believed, because he wants to mark those individuals as belonging to his clan. When one animal marks all the other animals this is known as sequential allomarking (or sometimes one-way allomarking). Whilst much more commonly done by the dominant boar, other boars may mark females if they have just mated with them (possibly to try to deter other males from trying to mate with her too).

There are also examples of two badgers trying to mark one another - this is known as mutual allomarking.This appears to happen much less frequently. In some instances it appears to occur when cubs are learning behaviour from adults. It is not known whether a cub scent marking an adult has any real significance or not. There is a plausible suggestion that cubs may learn to scent mark before they produce any gland secretions. The suggestion is that they do not start producing gland secretions until about four months old; which would tie in with them starting to move around the territory. Observations of cubs in rescue centre seems to suggest that cubs which are in the vicinity of a badger scent are more relaxed. Proving cubs with badger playmates or soft toys they can scent mark seems to make them more relaxed.

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 - especially on their badger paths. They do this by squatting on the ground and smearing musk onto a rock, a tuft of grass or other prominent vegetation. 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. In the case of a dominant male, it would seem that this would be intended to mark the territory. In the case of a female who is receptive to breeding, it would seem likely to indicate her current status to nearby males.

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).

They also have musk glands on their feet - and this will help badgers follow badger paths by their scent. It is suggested that these scent glands on the feet will also leave scent on tree trunks which badgers use as scratching posts. The height marked by the feet could provide a useful guide as to how tall the home badgers are, if the scratching post is visited by neighbouring badgers.

The use of scent on their badger paths and within their territory greatly helps a badger finds it's way around where it lives. Because it is familiar with the scent of other clan members; this can help it get back to its home sett quickly. There is some evidence that badgers released into an adjacent territory may have some understanding of how to get back to their home territory (albeit after some degree of exploration). However, badgers release in areas they have never been too or containing badgers they have never scented before pose a great risk; as they have no scent trails to help them get home again.

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 mate with females or steal food.

Perhaps for this reason, allomarking has been observed more commonly during the mating and cub-rearing seasons. Generally, males perform allomarking much more frequently than females.

However, both sexes will "over-mark" scent left by other badgers on some occasions. It is possible that this is done to try and re-claim ownership of a territory. Otherwise, it may be done by females to raise their profile as being available for mating; or to claim a small part of a main sett as being exclusively for her and her cubs.

Returning Badgers to the Wild

If a badger leaves the clan it quickly loses its distinctive "clan" smell. This can be a 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. On return to the clan, if the badger is missing its expected clan smell it may be dealt with as though it is an outsider. It may be bullied by other badgers, and possibly ejected from the clan or attacked (or maybe even killed) by other badgers. In many badger releases, the repaired animal will be placed in a secure cage at the planned release point and observed to see if other badgers find it. If the wild badgers seem to be agressive towards it, this is not a good sign; and the release may be abandoned. If the wild badgers are interested and no agressive; this may well suggest that they recognise it as one of their clan; in which the cage can be opened by pulling a remotely operated release pin to open the door.

Otherwise it might be possible to "puppy-walk" the badger around the territory, so the wild clan gets used to the repaired badger 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 baby badger into a new family with other cubs; and then release them into a new sett in the autumn. This is an enormous programme of work by the animal rescue organisation; and it is only possible to create new badger families with young cubs. This method is easiest where there is an existing empty sett already, and you can place a group of rescued badgers into it as a new clan.

 

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

ABSTRACT

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.

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