Definitions

badger-legged

Badger

[baj-er]

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 (badgers of Europe and Asia – see links in species list below), 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 badger to maintain its hold with the utmost tenacity, but limits its jaw movement to hinging opening and shutting or sliding from side to side.

Etymology

The derivation of the word badger is uncertain. It possibly comes from the French word blaireau: "corn-hoarder", or from the French word bêcheur (digger), introduced during William the Conqueror's reign. The Oxford English Dictionary, however, states that the most likely derivation is from badge + -ard, in reference to the white mark borne like a badge on its forehead.

An older term for "badger" is brock (Old English brocc), a Celtic loanword (Gaelic broc, Welsh broch, from Proto-Celtic *brokko) meaning grey. The Proto-Germanic term was *þahsu- (German Dachs), probably from the PIE root *tek'- "to construct," so that the badger would have been named after its digging of setts (tunnels).

A male badger is a boar, a female a sow and a young badger is a cub. The collective name for a group of badgers is a clan, colony, or cete.

Classification

Behavior

The behavior of badgers differs by family, but all shelter underground, living in burrows called setts. Some are solitary, moving from home to home, while others are known to form clans. Clan size is variable from 2 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. Badgers can run or gallop at up to 25-30 km per hour for short periods of time.

Diet

American Badgers are fossorial carnivores. 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 diet of the Eurasian badger consists largely of earthworms, insects, and grubs. They also eat small mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds as well as cereals, roots and fruit.

The honey badger consumes honey, porcupines and even venomous snakes (such as the puff adder). They will climb trees to gain access to honey from bees' nests.

Badgers and humans

Hunting badgers is common in many countries. Meddling in badger population is prevented as badgers are listed in the Berne Convention (Appendix III), but they are not otherwise the subject of any international treaty or legislation.

The blood sport of badger-baiting was outlawed in the United Kingdom by the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835 as well as the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 which makes it a serious offence to kill, injure or take a badger, or to damage or interfere with a sett unless a licence is obtained from a statutory authority. An exemption that allowed 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.

Many badgers in Europe were gassed during the 1960s and 1970s to control rabies. Until the 1980s, gassing was also practised in the UK to control the spread of bovine TB.

Scandinavian custom is to put eggshells or styrofoam in one's boots when walking through badger territory, as badgers are believed to bite down until they can hear a crunch. The dachshund dog breed has a history with badgers; "dachs" is the German word for badger, and dachshunds were originally bred to be badger hounds.

The badger is the state animal of Wisconsin. Likenesses of badgers appear through the Wisconsin State Capitol, and a badger appears on the head of the statue of Wisconsin atop the building. The official mascot of the University of Wisconsin-Madison is Buckingham U. Badger, AKA Bucky Badger.

Badgers in the human diet

Evidence shows that badger meat is freely available in marketplaces in China. It was until recently eaten in parts of Spain, it is sometimes eaten in Croatia, and in 2005 there was an outbreak of trichinellosis in the Novosibirsk region of Russia caused by people eating shish kebabs made from badger meat.

Badger products

Today badgers are commercially raised for their hair, which is harvested to make shaving brushes. Because badgers are a protected species in North America and most of Europe, virtually all commercial badger hair comes from mainland China, which supplies knots of hair in three grades to brush makers in both China and Europe. In rural Northern China, badgers multiply to the point of becoming a crop nuisance, and village cooperatives are licensed by the national government to hunt badgers and process their hair. The hair is also used for paint brushes, and was used as a trim on Native American garments. It has been used in some instances as doll hair.

In fiction and popular culture

Badgers are popular in English fiction. Many badger characters are featured in author Brian Jacques' Redwall series, most often falling under the title of Badger Lord or Badger Mother. Other stories featuring badgers include Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Mr. Tod ("Tommy Brock"), C. S. Lewis's Prince Caspian ("Trufflehunter"), The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, The Once and Future King and The Book of Merlyn by T. H. White, Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl, and The Animals of Farthing Wood.

In the Harry Potter series, one of the four "houses" of Hogwarts, Hufflepuff, is symbolised by a badger. The character Frances in Russell Hoban's series of children's books is a badger. Badgers also appear prominently in two volumes of Erin Hunter's Warriors: The New Prophecy series, and a badger god is featured as a major character and spirit guide for the lead character in The Immortals series by Tamora Pierce.

The most prominent poem on the badger is from the Romantic period's John Clare. "Badger" describes a badger hunt, complete with badger-baiting, and treats the badger as a noble creature which dies at the end.

Badgers are the primary subject of a popular flash animation simply called "badgers".

Urban legends

  • British forces were said to have released man-eating badgers in the vicinity of Basra, Iraq, following the 2003 coalition invasion. This allegation has been denied by the British, and local scientists agree that the animals, Ratels, also known as Honey Badgers, are native to the area.

References

External links

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