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  • Writer's pictureHarris Brooker

Badger Blog

Scottish Badger Week this year is 6-14 May and so we thought this was an ideal time to focus on the other species that people hope to see when visiting our Evening Mammal Hide – Badgers!

There are two Badgers in this image, the one on the left is nosing the one on the right
A Badger Pair (Photo Credit: Jane Hope)
There is a Badger in this image with its paws spread out licking peanut butter from a tree stump
Badger (Photo Credit: Jane Hope)

The Eurasian Badger (Meles meles) is the world’s largest Badger species out of the eight found worldwide. They have bold black and white faces that are not easily confused for anything else. It is also the second largest member of the weasel family, with only the Wolverine (Gulo gulo) being bigger.

How do They Defend Themselves?

In Britain they are the largest land predator left, with between 400,000 - 500,000 estimated to live here. With the absence of larger predators such as bears, Wolves and Lynx it has an expanded niche in the UK that would not have been possible if those larger predators had not been extinct.

Their appearance is in fact linked to those predators’ presences. Their black and white faces are thought to be an example of aposematism - the use of bright colours and/or patterns to appear threatening to predators. Think of the Skunk, which takes it to an even greater extreme.

Two Badgers are feeding on top of a log wall
Two Badgers Together (Photo Credit: Jane Hope)
There is a Badger feeding against a tree trunk stood on its hind legs
A Badger Feeding Against a Tree (Photo Credit: Jane Hope)

Their bold faces are designed to make predators think carefully before they decide to attack, which can give the Badger time to escape. If a predator chooses to press the attack however, they are in for a nasty surprise as the jaws of a Badger are immensely strong. If you look at a Badger skull you’ll see that its eye sockets are close to the nose. This leaves room for its massive jaw muscles. There is a sagittal crest on top of its head - a curved structure that anchors the muscle inside the head and gives its jaws a spring loaded mechanism. They lack the lateral flexibility that other animals have, like deer, so when they bite, they bite hard. This is primarily for defence as it’s not necessary for their diet of earthworms. As a group they can repel these larger predators and group sizes of between two to 23 individuals are typical in Britain and Northern Europe.

In southern Europe, Badgers tend to be more solitary and the drier climate means fewer worms that cannot support large groups and their setts have single entrances, as opposed to multiple entrances of those further north.

What is a Badgers Diet?

At least 60% of a Badger’s diet is made up of earthworms. This also serves as their primary source of hydration - they can drink water normally but need less of it. They can also eat berries, bulbs, cereals, nuts, insects, slugs, snails, amphibians, mice, rabbits and hedgehogs. Badgers are one of the few animals capable of eating hedgehogs.

They can weigh between 9-11 kilograms and in the autumn this can rise to 15 kilograms as at this time they’re putting on weight to see them through the winter. They don’t hibernate, but they can go into torpor or semi-hibernation - in other words they sleep more often and reduce their activity. Much like people do!

When it comes to breeding, Badgers have an unusual adaptation - they have delayed implantation. This means they can turn off their pregnancies and turn them back on again when conditions are suitable. Therefore they can mate at any time of the year, but time it so that births happen in early spring. This avoids cubs being born in winter when there’s less food.

There is a Badger putting its face inside a log to feed on peanut butter
Badger Feeding Inside a Log (Photo Credit: Jane Hope)

Badger Breeding Patterns

February to March are key periods when Badgers mate and only a dominant boar and sow are allowed to breed. Not long after birth, the subordinate females will help the dominant sow tend to her cubs and the dominant boar and any junior boars may have to move to what are known as satellite setts. These are setts that are only occupied temporarily - like holiday houses. These may also be used by subordinate females to give birth too, although this likely to be done in secret.

By April and May, the Badger cubs will be active above the sett, having been weaned from mother’s milk. At this point in time, they are allowed to explore the area surrounding their setts. Their appearance differs from that of the adults by not only being smaller, but fresher faced. Their black and white faces are as crisp as fresh linen.

By the end of June, they are closer in size to the adults and able to travel further from the sett. They are however still young and can be entertaining to watch because they’re still to learn ‘Badger etiquette’. When feeding they can butt into whatever an adult is feeding on, or even push their snouts out the way to get at the food. Some tolerate this well, some don’t and it’s not uncommon to see the cubs getting told off by at least one of the family members. Badgers can live on average for about seven years, 15 is the maximum known.

Typically, males are kicked out of the group and made to go their own way. Females are allowed to stay but to increase their chances of breeding, they may choose to move on and found either a new group or join an existing one.

There are two Badgers in this image feeding on peanuts shown in relation to the platform they are feeding on with some logs and tree trunks nearby
Two Badgers Feeding (Photo Credit: Jane Hope)

Badger hair is so coarse it used to be used for shaving brushes. Another past use is that their pelts were used for sporrans, a special pouch worn by Scottish Highlanders. They were even eaten as recently as World War 2!

Today they are protected by law, the first Badger Act was passed in 1973 thanks to public pressure and was revised over the years whenever loopholes were found. Then in 1992 the Badger Act was at its most comprehensive, the difference here is that it protected the Badger setts as well as the Badgers themselves.

There is a Badger in the grass with some nettles behind it. It has its snout raised.
Badger in the Grass (Photo Credit: Jane Hope)

If you would like a chance at seeing Badgers in the wild head to our Evening Wildlife Watching page to book your place.

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