BADGER
Meles meles
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Distribution

Palearctic Europe and Asia including Japan. Bounded by latitudes 35-60°N from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans and down the Asian Pacific coast through Vietnam.

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Description

The body is stocky, with short limbs and tail, 560 to 900mm in length and weighs from 10 to 16kg with a tail from 115 to 202 mm long.

The back is usually grey, the underside and limbs black. The characteristic face is white, with a dark stripe on each side that runs from the nose to the ear, surrounding the eye.

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Diet

In the British Isles and northern Europe, earthworms form the most important component of their diet. In southern Europe, badgers eat mostly insects and fruits. All badgers eat carrion.

Elsewhere they consume an extremely wide variety of foods including insects, other invertebrates, small mammals and reptiles, fruits and other plant matter.

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Setts

Badgers live in groups in underground "setts" composed of interlocking tunnels with nest chambers, toilets, and multiple entrances. The setts are inherited by offspring from their parents and extended. The resulting structures can be very extensive and centuries old.

The excavation of a badger sett in England revealed no less than 879 metres of tunnels, 50 chambers, and 178 entrances. The researchers estimate that the excavation of this sett involved the removal of 70 tons of soil. 

The preservation of old badger setts has become a conservation issue as some setts may be centuries old. Conservationists and local residents have sometimes successfully argued for the preservation of ancient badger setts against proposed property and infrastructure developments.  

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Habitat

The setts are almost invariably built in woodland or other areas where woody cover is present. Foraging is mainly done in open areas such as fields although badgers may forage in gardens.

The range of a family group of badgers may include suburban developments and some people intentionally leave food out for them.  

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Reproduction

Mating occurs from late winter to mid summer although the development of the zygote (fertilized egg) halts at the blastocyst stage (usually for about 10 months) until environmental conditions of day length and temperature are appropriate for implantation in the uterus and further gestation.

Gestation lasts for about seven weeks after implantation, most births occur in February and March with litters of between two and six (usually three or four) young.

The cubs open their eyes after four weeks and nurse for about two and a half months.

Sexual maturity of both males and females is attained at fourteen months of age. Dispersal may occur when an animal is as young as seven or eight months, but is usually delayed and many badgers (particularly the females) never leave their parents at all (see also Sociality).

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Sociality

Badgers are usually encountered alone when they emerge from the sett at night to forage therefore it is only comparatively recently that their sociality was recognized; they live in social groups averaging six adult individuals, although groups as large as twenty-three have been recorded.

Genetic analysis has shown that individual members of the groups, or "clans", in which badgers live have shown the individuals to be closely related. radiotracking of individuals has shown that this is due to the delayed dispersal of the offspring which results in family groups staying together. Females are much less likely to leave the family set than are ther brothers.

The clan frequently consists of a dominant male and a dominant female, and their subordinate offspring. The dominant pair are generally the only individuals that breed successfully; all or most of the females mate with the dominant male and subordinate females often become pregnant but, on the few occasions when the pregnancy is carried to term, the dominant female generally finds and kills the resultant cubs.

The subordinate members of the clan do not seem to be "helpers at the nest" of the sort found in some bird and a few mammallian species and studies show that they do not bring food back to the nest for either the breeding female or her cubs. They do, however, participate in sett excavation and the airing of nest material (but not at significantly higher rates after the birth of a litter).

Nest material is frequently carried to a sett entrance where it is aired in the sunshine for several hours, probably this behaviour reduces the number of external parasites which infest the sett..

Because of the solitary noctrunal foraging of badgers and social interactions aking place within the secrecy of the sett, the sociality of badgers is poorly understood but one possibility is that it may be connected with climate.

The size of badger setts and clans varies from warm southern Europe to to colder north; in southern Europe badgers live singly or in pairs and their sets are small and simple while in northern Europe, including the British Isles, the large sett is excavated by a larger clan to below the depth to which the ground freezes, and the whole clan sleeps together in one nest chamber (possibly for warmth).

It may be possible that the larger clans are necessary for the construction of deep and extensive setts and the sharing of body heat.

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Territoriality

Each badger clan defends a territory which varies from fifty to one hundred and fifty hectares and contains the sett and several foraging grounds.

The clan territory is marked by the placing of latrines (areas where all clan members urinate and deficate) at regular intervals along the borders and outlined by the paths that the badgers trample as they patrol the boundaries. Both paths and latrines are marked with the copious and decidedly odoriferous secretions of their subcaudal glands.

The memebers of the clan, particularly the males, aggressively defend their territories against intruding badgers.

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Classification
kingdom              Animalia
phylum            Craniata
class          Mammalia   Mammals
order        Carnivora
family      Mustelidae
genus    Meles
speciesMeles meles

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Economic Importance

The badgers' diet of insects and carrion may cut down on the number of pests in the environment.

Badger hair has been traditionally used to make various types of brushes. In northern China badger skins have been used to make rugs.

Badgers sometimes damage cultivated crops such as corn and oats and vegetable produce (including vegetables in domestic gardens). In southern Europe the animals have been known to consume ripening grapes in vineyards.

The close interaction of badgers and dairy cattle has led to calls for the culling of badgers as carriers of bovine tuberculosis. The government proposed trial culls but the necessity and, indeed, scientific validity of these culls is a hotly debated issue.

We hope to produce a page on this subject in the near future - any help or comments you make would be greatly appreciated.

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Links to Other Pages on this Site

 

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Bibliography

The Social Badger
  by H Kruuk, publisher
Oxford University Press, 1989

Badgers
  by Ernest Neal + Chris Cheeseman

The Natural History of Badgers
  by EG Neal, publisher Croom Helm, 1986

Badgers
  by Michael Clark

Badgers
  by John Darbyshire and Laurie Campbell, publisher Colin Baxter Photography

Walker s Mammals of the World
  by RM Nowak + JL Paradiso, publisher Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1983

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