Unmistakeable in appearance, fearsome by reputation, yet surprisingly shy and even peaceful, badgers are amongst Europe’s most overlooked large carnivores.
The European badger is arguably amongst the most distinctive woodland creatures – in both appearance and habit – that the average wildlife watcher is likely to encounter. Instantly recognisable thanks to their black-and-white striped heads and grizzled, stocky bodies, badgers have featured in legends, where they were often portrayed as shape-shifters, as well as in children’s stories – such as Wind in the Willows – cartoons and wildlife programmes. Despite this appearance-derived infamy, a surprising number of people don’t realise how complex and fascinating a badger’s life truly is. Nor do they realise how near they might be to a family of these remarkable creatures going about their daily (or more often nightly) business just as they have for centuries – right down to the paths they travel, which are often literally in the footsteps of their ancestors.The average suburban dweller is mostly unaware of families of badgers living just outside, highlighting these creatures’ secretive nature. However, by providing you with a little knowledge of what to look out for, we hope you’ll join us in admiring and celebrating the twilight world of the humble European badger.
“a surprising number of people don’t realise how complex and fascinating a badger’s life truly is”
From sparring and grooming to changing landscapes, badgers are shy animals with fascinating behaviours
Sparring and grooming
Badgers are generally very tolerant of others, even from outside their own clan. However, at breeding time, males fight for dominance and territory – chasing and biting at their opponent’s rumps and necks. When the clan is calm, they often spend time removing fleas and ticks from one another, using those formidable teeth and claws gently, to strengthen group bonds.
Breaking through barriers
A combination of poor eyesight, determination to follow their territorial path and sheer physical robustness allow badgers to show little regard for any newly erected fences that they may encounter. Tough ‘guard hairs’ and hide often defeat barbed wire, wooden fences are clawed or simply smashed through and the average wire-mesh is no match for their teeth and jaws.
Bumping rumps and keeping order
For European badgers, the backside is crucial leadership tool. A large supracaudal or ‘violet gland’ on the tail secrets a scented fluid uncommonly high in fat content. As well as marking out latrine (toilet) pits, a dominant male – or sometimes a lactating female – will reverse into other members of the clan, marking them as one of the gang.
Following in their ancestors footsteps
At dusk, badgers begin to wander from their sett. Using their incredible noses, many follow the same routes that their parents – or even grandparents – used, to reach good foraging areas. Over generations, visible ‘badger paths’ are worn into the countryside, bearing the unique scents of the family members that use them. Special interdigital glands between their toes leave invisible road markings.
Badgers’ lives are inextricably linked to soil. Almost every evolutionary adaptation they possess is intended for living close to the ground..
Digger; by name and nature
It’s widely believed that the name ‘badger’ comes from the French ‘bêcheur’, meaning ‘digger’. Wedge-shaped bodies, powerful forelimbs and stout, fairly straightened claws are near perfect for an animal excavator. Subterranean burrows (setts) can be up to 100m (330ft) long.
Typical of mustelids, badgers’ bodies are elongated, but unlike related stoats and weasels badgers can’t curve their backbones, raise their heads or ‘sit up’. This trade-off creates a ‘bulldozer’ like body, ideal for powering through the undergrowth.
Thick-skinned and tough
A Badgers skin is thick, tough and loose enough for a badger to spin on an attacker – such as a dog – even when seized by the scruff. Badgers easily excavate and consume entire wasp nests, entirely ignoring the hapless wasps stings