8 Surprising Facts About Badgers

American badger with a striped face and long colorful fur on its body
American badger.

Mark Newman / Getty Images

Badgers are short-legged mammals with striped faces and sharp claws. Expert excavators and proficient hunters, there are 11 badger species in a variety of shapes, sizes, and habitats. They can weigh as little as 2 pounds or as much as 36 pounds.

While some badgers are loners, others, like the Eurasian badger, coexist with other mammals as well as its own kind, sometimes even sharing their den. The American badger has a surprising but mutually beneficial hunting relationship with coyotes. Two badger species, the hog badger of Southeast Asia and the Bornean ferret-badger of Borneo, are at risk. From their elaborate tunnel building to their nocturnal nature, learn more about the elusive badger.

1. There Are 11 Species of Badgers

Badgers are members of the Mustelidae family, which also includes otters, weasels, and minks. Found across all continents with the exception of South America, Antarctica, and Australia, there are 11 species of badgers. The largest is the European or Eurasian badger and the smallest is the Chinese ferret-badger. The American badger, which is found throughout the Great Plains, the western United States, and parts of Canada and Mexico, is the only badger species native to North America.

Badgers are best known for their striped faces and thick bodies, but not all badgers are created equal. The smallest badgers are more weasel-like with slender bodies, while the largest ones have the traditional stocky bodies and short legs.

2. They Are Great Excavators

Badgers are built for digging. American badgers have strong forelimbs that allow them to efficiently tunnel through soil and more durable surfaces. They use their strong digging ability to create elaborate tunnels called setts or dens. Badgers use their dens primarily for catching prey and for sleeping. Badgers have several burrows within their home range and don’t often sleep in the same place every night. During the summer, they often dig a burrow every day.

The den of an American badger may be as deep as 10 feet below ground, with over 30 feet of tunnels and a large area for sleeping. Ferret-badgers also have long claws for digging, but their feet are partially webbed and are designed more for climbing than digging.

3. They Are Carnivores

Generally nocturnal, badgers do most of their foraging during the evening hours. Some, like the honey badger, hunt for prey alone, while others, like the Javan ferret-badger, sometimes forage in groups. Badgers are generally carnivorous, preying on small mammals like gophers, squirrels, birds, lizards, and insects. Some species, like the Eurasian badger, favor earthworms but also consume rabbits and hedgehogs. Others, like the Chinese ferret-badger, are omnivores that eat a variety of fruit and plants in addition to their primary diet of earthworms, insects, and amphibians. Honey badgers are opportunistic feeders, changing their diet with the seasonal availability of prey.

Badgers are known to cache food in their dens, but observations of this behavior in the wild are limited. In 2016, scientists at the University of Utah tested the behavior of American badgers to ascertain whether they would attempt to cache animals larger than themselves. Researchers set up cameras and left two deceased calves in the desert. Two badgers independently buried the animal carcasses over the course of several days. They also built dens for themselves to sleep next to the buried animals. The feat was particularly impressive, as the calves weighed three to four times more than the badgers.

4. They Team Up to Hunt

Coyote and badger hunting together
USFWS Mountain-Prairie / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

American badgers are usually solitary animals, but they're willing to work alongside other animals if it benefits them. Such is the case with coyotes. The fleet-footed canid and the burly badger often work together to increase the odds of snatching a meal.

While it seems an unlikely pairing, the association of coyotes and badgers works well for both species. The coyote brings the speed and is able to chase down prey on the run, while the badger prevents intended prey from hiding in its tunnels.

5. Honey Badgers Are Tough

honey badger standing in a sandy habitat with small green plantws

wrangel / Getty Images

Known for their aggressive behavior, honey badgers have a reputation of being fearless. They typically keep to themselves as they travel daily to hunt for food. When a male honey badger believes his mate is threatened, he will defend her with force. To let others know that they are not welcome, honey badgers mark their burrows with urine and feces. Things can get particularly ugly if one male tries to take over another male’s burrow — the two will engage in a dance of dominance to decide who stays and who goes.

Honey badgers are built tough and can easily escape a predator or fight back. Their loose skin is thick and rubbery, but should something get through, such as the sting of a bee or the bite of a snake, the honey badger has a resistance that allows them to quickly recover from the venom.

6. Eurasian Badgers Share Their Burrows

Eurasian badger standing at opening to its purrow

Laurie Campbell / Getty Images

The largest of the badger species, Eurasian badgers are also the friendliest. Unlike the more solitary American badger, most Eurasian badgers live in groups of two to 23 members. Social behavior is largely dictated by the availability of food and the density of the badger population. When food is scarce, the badgers become more independent. When resources are plentiful, however, Eurasian badgers are happy to share. The individuals that occupy areas with a lower population overall tend to live separately, as opposed to those in highly populated areas, where the badgers often share their dens and other resources.

Eurasian badgers also sometimes share their burrows with other species including rabbits, porcupines, red foxes, brown rats, wood mice, stone martens, pine martens, and coypus. Most interesting is the commensalism between red foxes and badgers. Scientists investigating the sharing of dens between these species believe that their ability to coexist demonstrates spatial and conditional niche segregation.

7. Ferret-Badgers Are the Smallest

Burmese ferret-badger drinking water
Burmese ferret-badger. Sainam51 / Shutterstock

While the most common image of badgers is of rotund animals, the smallest of badgers, the ferret-badger of the subfamily Helictidinae, looks little like its larger cousins. The largest badger, the Eurasian badger, ranges from 22 to 35 inches long and can weigh as much as 36 pounds, while ferret-badgers are only about 12 to 17 inches long and weigh under 7 pounds. The Chinese ferret-badger is the smallest, weighing between 2 and 6 pounds.

There are five species of ferret-badger, including the Bornean, Chinese, Javan, Burmese, and Vietnam ferret-badgers. While they do live in burrows, they don't always stick to the ground. The Chinese ferret-badger is a strong climber that utilizes its skill to snag fruit from trees. Some, like the Javan ferret-badger, occupy the holes of other animals instead of digging their own.

8. Some Are at Risk

While most badger species are not considered at risk, the greater hog badger is vulnerable and the Bornean ferret-badger is endangered.

Found only in Borneo, the Bornean ferret-badger has a decreasing population and is endangered. The largest threat to the Bornean ferret-badger is its vulnerability to catastrophic events due to its small range of under 2,000 square miles within a single forest. Climate change is also expected to have a negative effect on the ferret-badger as well as other species at similar elevations in the forest.

The hog badger has a declining population in its range that includes Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. The hunting of hog badgers for food is largely responsible for its decline. Other contributing factors include reduction and fragmentation of its natural habitat and agricultural changes. The greater hog badger is a protected species in Thailand, Bangladesh, and India.

Save the Badger

  • Donate to the Wildlife Alliance Trust to support its efforts to remove threats, such as snares, to the hog badger population in Southeast Asia.
  • Support Badger Trust, an organization dedicated to preventing cruelty and other crimes against badgers in the United Kingdom.
  • Adopt a badger or donate to the Avon Wildlife Trust program to vaccinate badgers in the UK to prevent culling due to Bovine TB in badgers.
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