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"What is important about the badger is that it has survived. It is still here. It has not, like so many of our wild animals, the wolf, the wild-boar, as well as the bear, been hunted into extinction. Man might have done his best to wipe it out, but he has failed."
Ernest Dudley

Introduction to Badgers

Latin Name: Meles meles

This topic is a quick summary of the badger. There are a few paragraphs of information which gives information about the "basics" of a badger. There is much more detail on each aspect of the badger in the more detailed topics shown in the menu on the left of this screen.

Names

The badger we have in the UK is really the Eurasian badger (meles meles). It is called Eurasian because it lives in the UK, Europe and parts of Asia. Our UK badger is not the same species as the American Badger (which lives in Canada and the USA) or the Honey Badger (which lives in Africa, and isn't really a true badger anyway).

Many people think that the reason it is called a "badger" because this is similar to the French word "beucher", which means digger. Another option is that because it has a very obvious black and white face, this is like a mask or a badge; so it is called badger.

Other nicknames in the UK include Brock, Pate and Bawson. The word Brock probably comes from the very early Celtic word brokkos, which means grey. The word Bawson may also come from the old French word bausent, which means "piebald, having a coat with black and white patches".

The scientific names Meles meles is used across the world; as our badger has different names in different countries and different languages. Some of the non-English names include:

  • Broch = Scots Gaelic
  • Mochyn Daear (earth pig) = Welsh
  • Beucher = French
  • Dachs = German
  • Das = Dutch
  • Svintoks = Norwegian
  • Grävling = Swedish
  • Tasso = Italian
  • Toixó = Catalan
  • Tejón = Spanish
  • Texugo = Portuguese
  • Borsuk = Polish

Size

An adult male badger measures from 690 - 800mm from the head to the base of the tail - plus a 125 - 175 mm tail, and weighs 8.5 - 12.5 kg.

An adult female badger measures from 670 - 790mm from the head to the base of the tail - plus a 115 - 190mm tail, and weighs 8.2 - 10.5kg. Breeding females may weigh as little as 7.2kg during lactation.

As seen from these numbers, the female badger is slightly smaller than the male. The male has a slightly broader head and looks a little more muscular. The females tend to have a more obviously bushy tail; whereas the males tend to have a thinner pointed tail which has a little more white on it.

It is pretty clear when you see a badger from the side, that it has a small head, a thick short neck, a wedged-shaped body, short stubby legs and a short tail.  It has a strong rubbery nose and an amazing sense of smell. It can lift it's nostrils out of the way to make sure it does not get a noseful of soil. The badger does not see very well as it only has small eyes. It can only see in monochrome (black and white). It's ears are small and close to the head; and are tipped with white fur.

The front legs, feet and claws are immensely strong, making it obvious that the badger is a very powerful digging machine. Like with humans, the badger has feet which are adapted so that the toes and the metatarsal bones (the long bones in the feet), rest on the ground. This means that the badger has a plantigrade-type foot. This type of foot provides stability and a good weight-bearing ability; as plantigrade feet have a large surface area. The disadvantage stems from the fact that this type of foot is heavy and has a lot of complex joints; which makes it difficult to move rapidly.

When walking on soft ground, the footprint will show the claw marks, the toe pads, the central pad and the heel (ie. plantigrade-style). On firmer ground, the heel print is often missing; so, in this sense, the badger does not have the feet of a "pure" plantigrade.

Pelage/fur

Their coarse coat of hair is black and white - leading to a grey appearance from a distance. The hair from their back is up to 75mm long and has a black pointed tip.

The badger has a black chest and forepaws; with a prominent black and white striped head with white ear-tips. Hair from the head, face, legs and underside is shorter.

They do shed their hair, and it is often possible to find badger hair on or in the soil at or near a badger sett. Badgers also undergo a seasonal moult - where they tend to shed more hair in the summer (when there is more daylight and higher temperatures), before growing more hair again at the start of the winter (when the amount of daylight has reduced and the temperature is lower).

Habitat

It lives in or near the edge of woods and copses, especially if attached to pastureland. Occasionally it can be seen in suburbs; and on the edge of farmland and in abandoned quarries.

Badgers have a widespread distribution in the UK, with more in the wild/wet areas of the south and south-west, and fewer in flat and farmed areas, and above 900m. Given that they live underground, their setts are normally dug into sloping ground which remains above the typical water table, so are not normally abundant in flood-prone areas.

Activity

Badgers are primarily nocturnal because their prey (earthworms throughout most of their range) only comes to the surface at night to breed. Generally, here in the UK, badgers emerge from their setts (underground homes) before dusk between May and August and after dark for the rest of the year; they are also less active from November to February. They may emerge from their setts and groom themselves (and one another) for a while before moving off to forage nearby. They may travels hundreds of metres away from the sett in large territories; but they will normally return to their home sett before dawn.

In the high summer months, they may emerge a short while before sunset.

Young

Mating usually occurs in July, but implantation can be delayed by 2 to 10 months. After then the badger is properly pregnant for about seven weeks.

There is normally a single litter of between 2 and 3 cubs born from January to March. The cubs are born with their eyes and ears closed, with dirty white fur on their upper body only.

Many cubs die within their first year, although those that do survive, often live for up to five years or more.

Nest

Badgers live in groups of up to 2 to 20 (but normally around 6) in an earthen sett. The sett is lined with moss, grass and leaves which the badger renews frequently. Often there will also be a special outlier sett (containing fewer nesting chambers) about 100 metres or so away from the main sett.

The sett will normally be in sloping ground near the edge of deciduous or mixed woodland, with good access to grassland. In urban areas; they may live under buildings where they have access to urban grassland or gardens. In rural areas, they will also live in old quarry or mine workings or caves; as well as in embankments (railway, road, canal) and in thick hedgerows.

Where badgers are commonly present in a landscape area, a reasonable sett density is about 2 badger setts per square kilometre. This can be high in areas of good badger habitat and high badger populations. It can be much lower in areas of poor badger habitat.

Diet

Although the badger is classed as a carnivore (it has large canine teeth), it is essentially omnivorous. As well as earthworms, beetles, voles, mice, frogs, snails and wasps, it also eats acorns, beech mast, bulbs, fruits and roots. Essentially it is a forager (eating what it finds), rather than a hunter which chases after prey.

Compared to the fox, the badger has a longer gut to cope with it having a more wide-ranging diet.

Voice

Badger cubs sometimes make a high-pitched whickering sound. Adults growl or bark as a warning or purr with pleasure. They are also known to emit a long-drawn scream (reason unknown). More details of the noises they make is on the Sounds and Detailed Badger Sounds pages.

Status

Generally the badger is well distributed across the UK, although it remains as an illegally persecuted animal in too many areas.

Badgers have been described as the oldest land-owners in Britain. Long before Britain was an island they were here.

They belong to the same family of mammals that have musk-bearing glands under their tails - including Otters, Polecats, Ferrets, Mink, Stoats, Weasels, Pine Martens and Wolverines.

Predators

Many badgers are illegally killed by gamekeepers and farmers, cubs sometimes killed by Dogs and Foxes. Other are killed by men who illegally hunt them for so-called sport - either by shooting them with hunting rifles or allowing them to be killed by one or more terriers or other large dogs.

Many other badgers are killed in accidents on the roads and railways.

Badgers are a Key Species

Thousands of years ago, the UK contained populations of bears and wolves; and there is little doubt that they preyed on badgers. However, now that bears and wolves are extinct in the wild in Britain, badgers are pretty much at the top of the ecological tree. They are a key species; who rightly deserve to maintain their place in the ecology of Britain. Removing badgers from an area results in major changes for the ecology of other species. The number of pests increase without badgers, so rabbit, rat and mouse problems get worse. Fox numbers increase, which leads to other protected wildlife species numbers falling rapidly. In a very real sense, the presence of the badgers helps to keep fox numbers down; which allows brown and mountain hares to maintain their relatively low population levels.

Collective Names

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.
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