Badger (Meles meles)

Also known as: Eurasian badger
  
French: BLAIREAU EUROPÉEN
Spanish: TEJÓN
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCarnivora
FamilyMustelidae
GenusMeles (1)
SizeTail length: 150 mm (2)
Head and body length: 750 mm (2)
Weight (spring): 8 - 9 kg (2)
Weight (autumn): 11 - 12 kg (2)

The badger is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). It is fully protected in the UK by the Protection of Badgers Act, 1992 (3), and by Schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Classified as a species of conservation concern by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, although not a priority species. Listed under Appendix III of the Bern Convention (4).

With its striking black and white striped head, the badger (Meles meles) is one of our most instantly recognisable mammals. The rest of the stocky body appears grey, and the legs, throat, neck, chest and belly are black (5). The tail is a whitish colour, but can be darker (5). Males and females are generally similar in appearance, although females tend to be slightly smaller in size (5). The badger's name is said to derive from the French 'bêcheur', meaning 'digger'; the strong musculature, short legs and long claws of this species reflect its burrowing habits (6).

Widespread throughout Europe and Britain, but not as common in northern Scotland and many of the islands around the UK (7).

Although optimal habitat appears to be woods and pasturelands in lowland areas (7), badgers can also be found in urban areas (7), moorlands, and coastal habitats (5). Free-draining banks, natural caves, embankments, and tips are often the site of setts (7).

Although such a familiar species, few people have actually seen this elusive nocturnal mammal in its natural habitat (2). During the day badgers are inactive, and rest in their setts, complex systems of underground tunnels with nests of dry grass, straw and dead leaves (2), which are passed on from generation to generation (6). In certain conditions they may forage during the day, for example during hot summers when food is in short supply (7). Although they do not hibernate, they do spend a lot of time in the sett during cold spells in winter (7).

Badgers are omnivorous; their main source of food is earthworms, of which they may eat several hundred a night (6). They also take other invertebrates, nuts, fruit, small vertebrates, bulbs and cereals (7). They are one of the few species able to kill and eat hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus), thanks to their thick skin and long claws (6).

Badgers tend to live in social groups consisting of a number of adults and young (5). There is usually a dominant male (boar) and one breeding female (sow) in each group (5), but occasionally more than one female breeds (2). The dominant boar marks the range with dung in certain places called 'latrines', and will fiercely defend his range from intruding males (5). Mating tends to occur in the spring, but it can take place throughout the year. Regardless of the time of year of fertilisation of the egg, further development is delayed until December (7). This 'delayed implantation' means that there is an opportunity for cubs to grow sufficiently before winter (5). Litters contain between 1 and 5 playful cubs, which become sexually mature at around 2 years of age (5).

Badgers can damage crops and cause subsidence problems; they are therefore considered a pest in some circumstances (7). Badgers are known to carry bovine tuberculosis, and have been culled for this reason, which has sparked considerable debate and protest, and further research is required (7). Historically, badgers have been severely persecuted in a number of ways, including badger baiting (in which badgers are pitted against dogs and forced to fight to the death), digging, setting snares, shooting, and having their sett holes blocked (3). Road accidents are a major cause of mortality, and habitat loss and fragmentation are also thought to be causes for concern (7).

Badgers have an extremely high level of legal protection under the Protection of Badgers Act, 1992 (3). It is illegal to intentionally kill, persecute, or trap a badger except by applying for a license (3). Inhumane means of control are banned, and it is also illegal to damage, destroy, and obstruct setts (3).

For more on this species, see:

Information authenticated by Dr Pat Morris, with the support of the British Ecological Society
http://www.britishecologicalsociety.org/

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. The Mammal Society. Badger Fact Sheet. (July 2002):
    http://www.abdn.ac.uk/mammal/badger.shtml
  3. Morris, P. (1993) A Red Data Book for British Mammals. Mammal Society, Bristol.
  4. The Environment Agency. (1998) Species and Habitats Handbook: Look-up chart of species and their legal status. The Environment Agency, Bristol.
  5. Steve Jackson's Badger pages (July 2002):
    http://www.badgers.org.uk/badgerpages/eurasian-badger-01.html
  6. MacDonald, D. (2001) The new encyclopedia of mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  7. Macdonald, D.W. and Tattersall, F.T. (2001) Britain's mammals- the challenge for conservation. The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Oxford University. Available from:
    http://www.wildcru.org