Did you know that badgers are members of the weasel family? And that there are nine different species of these omnivorous, digging mammals? Badgers are full of surprises...
Most people are familiar with the Eurasian badger (Meles meles), if only from stories such as The Wind in the Willows, Rupert the Bear, and the Redwall books. Such literature suggests that the badger is a very British beast, but in fact 'old Brock' is the most widely distributed badger on the planet, with a range which stretches from Britain and Ireland in the west to Japan in the east, and from Norway and Sweden down to the Middle East and southern China. The popularity of the badger in story books might also suggest that this species is universally loved. (Did you know that the mascot of Hogwarts School's Hufflepuff House in the Harry Potter stories is a badger?) Sadly, while the badger has a great many fans, it also has a large number of enemies. Despite legal protection, the badger is widely persecuted in Britain (and in many other countries too). The cruel 'sports' of badger digging and baiting still go on. In addition, snares maim and kill many badgers, thousands are killed by road traffic every year, and even the UK Government is killing hundreds annually because of the still unproven claim that badgers infect cattle with bovine TB.
While the Eurasian badger is known around the world and features in story books and many a website, the same cannot be said of its altogether less well-known cousin, the hog badger (Arctonyx collaris). At first glance these two species look very similar, as they both have stripey faces and grey bodies. The hog badger however has a longer snout with a pink, hog-like nose - hence the name. The geographic range of hog badger overlaps that of its European cousin in China. In addition, the hog badger lives in much of south-east Asia, along with no less than five other members of the badger clan: three ferret badgers and two stink badgers.
The ferret badgers are rather un-badgerlike in appearance, but you probably guessed that from the name. Yes, they are ferret- or weasel-like in shape and size, though with slightly bushier tails. They do however have bold black and white facial markings, and well-developed claws which they use, in typical badger fashion, to dig for worms and other invertebrates. The three species are the Chinese or small-toothed ferret badger (Melogale moschata), the Burmese or large-toothed ferret badger (Melogale personata), and the rare Everett's ferret badger (Melogale everetti).
Now, where were we? Oh yes, stink badgers. The name does rather take away the element of surprise when I reveal that these species are known for the noxious fluids produced by their anal glands. There are two species, the Indonesian or Javan stink badger (Mydaus javanensis), and the rarer Palawan stink badger (Mydaus marchei). Originally, the stink badgers were classified as skunks, even though that made them the only skunks in Asia. They were then grouped with the badgers, but recent research has suggested that they may indeed be more closely related to the skunks after all.
Although there is some dispute as to whether or not the stink badgers are true badgers, there is no such debate regarding the honey badger, also known as the ratel (Mellivora capensis). Honey badgers are badgers in name only, and belong to a rather exclusive club, being the only members of the sub-family Mellivorinae (the true badgers belong to the subfamily Melinae). Ranging across Africa, the middle East and parts of India, this species does, as the name suggests, have a fondness for honey. Legend has it that the honey badger has a special relationship with a bird called the honey guide. The honey guide is said to lead these badgers to bees' nests, and then share in the feast when the nests are plundered. Hard evidence of this relationship is a little thin on the ground however. Likewise, the honey badger's reputation as fearless attacker (and indeed castrator) of animals many times its size may also be exaggerated to some extent. However, there is no denying that the honey badger is a remarkable animal.
Last but by no means least, the American badger (Taxidea taxus) also has something of a reputation as a mean creature that is not to be tangled with. With its striped face this species in similar in appearance to its Eurasian cousin. However, while Meles meles is a social animal (at least in those parts of its range where food supplies are abundant), the American badger is a loner. Meles is a forager and omnivore, but Taxidea is very much a carnivorous hunter, tracking and down and digging out ground squirrels, prairie dogs and other rodents. And while the Eurasian species digs extensive setts which are often used for many years by generations of badgers, the American species digs large numbers of simple burrows as it travels around its territory, using each one for just a day or two before moving on.
I hope that this page has aroused your interest in these fascinating creatures. If so, you can find out a great deal more about them through Badgers on the Web, which provides links to the leading badger websites. Learn, enjoy - and if you can, please take the time to do something to help these marvellous mammals.