5 Ways Badgers Will Surprise You

The Japanese badger is endemic to the Japanese islands of Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku and Shodoshima. Alpsdake [CC BY-SA 4.0]/Wikipedia

Badgers are known as the gruff and grumpy residents of hillsides and prairies. These striped-faced mustelids are expert excavators, skilled at plucking out earthworms, grubs, insects and all sorts of other critters.

Badgers often are portrayed in movies and popular literature as wise and practical. Indeed, badgers too often are underestimated.

Here are five badger behaviors (and species of badgers) that might surprise you:

Badgers Can Bury an Entire Calf Underground

Normally, badgers eat smallish fare, from amphibians and reptiles to birds and small mammals. But an American badger recently astounded researchers when it was recorded burying a calf carcass over the course of several days. The buried cache of meat became a feast for the assiduous animal. This is the first time such behavior has been witnessed. The calf was left in front of cameras by researchers who wanted to find out which scavenger animals would take advantage of a free meal. They certainly didn't expect this:

The Guardian reports, "According to the researchers the discovery, published in the journal the Western North American Naturalist, is the first time badgers have been reported burying a carcass several times bigger than themselves. While the calves weigh in around 23kg, female badgers weigh on average 6.3kg and males 8.6kg. The discovery, they add, suggests that badgers might be responsible for disposing of more animal carrion than previously thought – potentially having knock-on effects on the food supply of other animals."

Badgers and Coyotes Team up for Hunting

Badgers are known for their bad attitudes, but they're willing to work alongside other animals if it benefits them in the long run. 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.

A coyote and badger are spotted hunting and resting together.
A coyote and badger are spotted hunting and resting together. Kimberly Fraser, USFWS

"Studies have shown that this unusual relationship is beneficial for both species," explains the USFWS. "The coyote can chase down prey if it runs and the badger can dig after prey if it heads underground into its burrow systems."

Ultimately, the coyote and badger are more likely to get a meal when they work as a team, as MNN writer Russell McLendon describes. In a study published in the Journal of Mammalogy, the researchers note that when the two species work together, they both use less energy to get more food. So when conditions are right, coyotes and badgers benefit when they temporarily put their differences aside for tag-team hunting. The partnership is well-known to Native Americans but has only been studied relatively recently.

Honey Badgers Set the Standard for Fearlessness

Honey badgers are famous for their ferocity and their feasting.
Honey badgers are famous for their ferocity and their feasting. Erwin Niemand/Shutterstock

After gaining internet fame for not giving a s***, honey badgers quickly became the standard for toughness and mayhem.

One reason that honey badgers seem to be so fearless: They're comfortable in their own skin. Literally. Their skin is so loose that they can easily turn their bodies within it to escape a predator or fight back. That is, if a predator can even get a grip. The honey badger's skin is thick and rubbery, to the point that it can withstand a blow from a sharp machete.

Should something get through, such as the sting of a bee or the bite of a snake, the honey badger has the ability to quickly recover from the venom. The species has been documented brawling with a highly venomous puff adder, killing the snake, rolling over in a comatose state for a bit to sleep off the venom and then waking up to finish off its meal.

European Badgers Sometimes Shack up With Red Foxes

A young female of European badger (Meles meles) comes in for a close-up.
A young female European badger (Meles meles) comes in for a close-up. Jiri Balek/Shutterstock

Much like the way American badgers and coyotes find a way to temporarily coexist when the occasion calls for it, European badgers sometimes share their burrows with other species including rabbits, red foxes, raccoon dogs and other mammals. Most interesting is the commensalism between red foxes and badgers. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it can go very awry.

Often, red foxes will take up residence in abandoned badger burrows instead of digging their own den — even if it's not completely abandoned. If there is a large enough burrow with isolated sections, red foxes and badgers may tolerate each other. Foxes bring in plenty of food to raise their kits, and often leave enough scraps for a badger to have plenty to snack on as well. Meanwhile, badgers are known for how meticulously clean they keep their burrows. Foxes may benefit from the badger's housekeeping skills, which keep pests and parasites to a minimum.

But badgers have been known to drive foxes from their burrows and kill the kits. (Good fences make good neighbors they say.)

The Ferret-Badger Is the Smallest of the Badger Species

This small badger resembles a skunk or ferret as much as it resembles its larger badger cousins.
This small badger resembles a skunk or ferret as much as it resembles its larger badger cousins. Sainam51/Shutterstock

We may be used to seeing large, rotund badgers, but the ferret-badger throws a wrench into our expectations. It's the smallest of the badgers and only barely resembles its larger cousins.

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, for instance, is a strong climber and utilizes that skill to snag fruit from trees. All ferret-badgers, in fact, have partially webbed toes and ridges on their paw pads that are assumed to be adaptations for climbing.

The European badger can weigh more than 40 pounds, yet the ferret-badgers range only around 12 to 18 inches long and weigh under 7 pounds, and often less depending on the species.

Here, a Javan ferret-badger mother and young forage on the forest floor at night: