Badger is the common name for any animal of three subfamilies, which belong to the family Mustelidae: the same mammal family as the ferrets, the weasels, the otters, and several other types of carnivore. There are eight species of badger, in three subfamilies: Melinae (the Eurasian badgers), Mellivorinae, (the Ratel or honey badger), and Taxideinae (the American badger) The Asiatic stink badgers of the genus Mydaus were formerly included in the Melinae, but recent genetic evidence indicates that these are actually Old World relatives of the skunks (family Mephitidae). Typical badgers (Meles, Arctonyx, Taxidea and Mellivora species) are short-legged and "heavy-set". The lower jaw is articulated to the upper, by means of a transverse condyle firmly locked into a long cavity of the cranium, so that dislocation of the jaw is all but impossible. This enables the badgers to maintain its hold with the utmost tenacity.
Badgers are the largest indigenous animals that are mostly carnivorous in Great Britain. They are known to grow to a metre in length, but never more than 50 cm tall. As they eat plants and honey occasionally, this classifies them as 'omnivores'.
The behavior of badgers differs based on family. Some are solitary, moving from home to home, while others are known to form clans of up to 15. Badgers are fierce animals and will protect themselves and their young at all costs. Badgers are capable of fighting off much larger animals such as wolves, coyotes and bears. Aside from Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus) and Humans (Homo Sapiens), Badgers are thought to be the only animals which attack without provocation.
North American Badgers are carnivorous and prey predominantly on pocket gophers (Geomyidae), ground squirrels (Spermophilus), moles (Talpidae), marmots (Marmota), prairie dogs (Cynomys), woodrats (Neotoma), kangaroo rats (Dipodomys), deer mice (Peromyscus), and voles (Microtus).
They also prey on ground nesting birds, such as bank swallows (Riparia riparia and burrowing owls Athene cunicularia), lizards, amphibians, carrion, fish, hibernating skunks (Mephitis and Spilogale), insects, including bees and honeycomb, and some plant foods, such as corn, peas, green beans, (Zea) and sunflower seeds (Helianthus). Unlike many carnivores that stalk their prey in open country, badgers catch most of their food by digging.
They can tunnel after ground dwelling rodents with amazing speed. They have been known to cache food.
The honey badger consumes honey, porcupines and even venomous snakes (such as the puff adder).
Some braver badgers will prey on young foxes and coyotes only if they are not at much of a risk from their parents.
The diet of the Eurasian badger consists largely of earthworms, insects, and grubs. They also eat small mammals, frogs, reptiles, and birds opportunistically, as well as cereals and fruit.
Badgers and humans:
Badgers are listed in the Berne Convention (Appendix III), but are not otherwise the subject of any international treaty or legislation. Badgers are hunted in many countries, either as a perceived pest, or for sport.
Many badger setts in Europe were gassed during the 1960s and 1970s to control rabies. Gassing was also practiced in the UK until the 1980s to control the spread of bovine TB. Badgers are protected in the UK by the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. (An exemption allowing fox hunters to loosely block setts to prevent chased foxes escaping into them was brought to an end with the passage of the Hunting Act 2004).
Badgers may not be killed, nor their setts interfered with, except on license from the government, with an exception permitting the killing of badgers in the attempt to eradicate bovine tuberculosis.