Badgers are well-known for their digging habits and nasty dispositions when they're forced to defend themselves. A predator of gophers and prairie dogs, they favor prairies, open farmlands, and deserts. Numerous excavations make badgers unpopular with some farmers and ranchers. Viewed with either affection or disgust, badgers are expanding their ranges eastwardly.
Adult badgers measure 30 to 35 inches in length, including a short, well-furred tail of 5 or 6 inches. Body shapes are wide, giving a flat-backed appearance. Many adult badgers weigh 12 to 16 pounds, though weights might increase to more than 20 pounds in late fall as badgers store up layers of fat to sustain them during periods of cold weather and deep snow.
Colors are mostly gray with a grizzled effect due to long guard hairs that have a black band ending in a white tip. Underfur is either a light tan or a creamy white. A white stripe from the nose leads between the eyes and back over the head of the badger, ending between the shoulders.
Ears are set low along the sides of the head. Lower legs and feet are black in color. There are five toes on each foot, and four of the toes on the front feet have exceptionally long claws of up 11/2 to 1 3/4 inches in length.
Badgers have 34 teeth, including four sharply pointed canines. All badgers have a pair of musk-producing glands near the anus and two skin glands located on the belly.
Badgers mate in August or September. Delayed implantation of fertilized eggs occurs, and the development of the litter begins in late February when the eggs attach to the uterus of the female. The actual development time is approximately nine weeks before two to seven young are born. Although the female has eight teats, litter sizes tend to be small — a litter size of three is common. Females care for the litter by themselves. Juveniles disperse in late summer to begin solitary lifestyles.
Badgers are territorial throughout most of the year. Most territories are about 3 or 4 square miles. The size of the territory might vary somewhat due to the availability of rodents, a preferred food. Habitats with sandy or porous soils are preferred. Badgers frequent wooded areas when soils are suitable for digging. Other than the dispersal of juveniles, badgers do not seem to emigrate. Typically walking from place to place, they can trot or bound along at a gallop when they choose to.
Badgers have excellent senses of hearing and smell. Both serve in locating food species, which are usually rodents in underground dens. Vision is good and enables badgers to recognize danger at a distance. Badgers have been known to plug the exit holes of prey species before tunneling underground to capture the prey. The long claws serve to loosen the soil and pass it backward where the hind feet kick the soil out behind the digging animal. This dirt is often kicked backward 6 or 8 feet in an almost continuous arc. Badgers close their eyes as they dig underground. They rely on smell and hearing to continue digging toward the prey.
Even though badgers have relatively small territory zones, a number of dens are used regularly over different parts of the territory. These underground dens are often elaborate. Most tunnels are 6 to 8 feet deep and 20 to 30 feet long to the main chamber, which is elevated to discourage flooding. A smaller chamber is also dug underground to serve as a toilet area, and many dens have several entrance holes. Dens that have been used for generations by badgers may have as many as 30 to 40 exits and tunnels as deep as 15 feet. Bedding grass and leaves are sometimes removed from the den chamber for airing out by a den entrance after which it is taken back down into the chamber for reuse.
Some badgers have demonstrated that they'll tolerate a fox or coyote sharing the same den. In 1871, a lost Canadian boy shared a den with a badger, which at first tried to drive him away but then appeared to adopt him by bringing him food.
Length: 30-35 inches
Weight: 12-16 pounds
Mating season: August and September
Litter size: 2-7
Life span: up to 12 years
Badgers are determined fighters when they're threatened. Their loose-fitting skin prevents them from being held securely by another animal.
Badgers don't hibernate, but they do sleep for extended periods of time in northern states during extended periods of cold weather and deep snow. Wintering dens can sometimes be found in woodlands, where the frost doesn't penetrate as deeply. They can stay underground for weeks at a time, but they come out to hunt occasionally, as they do not store food.
Other than rodents, badgers also eat skunks, snakes, birds and their eggs, worms, insects, berries, and carrion. Rattlesnakes are eaten when available, but badgers don't eat the rattlesnake head. Carrion is probably an important winter food when the frozen ground is difficult or impossible to dig in. The condition of the claws is important. Badgers sharpen their long claws by scratching on trees or posts. A badger is considered to be old at 12 years of age.
Badgers are commonly found in all of the western and north central states and their range has gradually extended eastward over the years. This species is rarely found in the southeast.
Tracks and Scat
Identification of badger tracks is easy due to long claw marks left by the front feet. Droppings aren't usually found, as they are generally deposited into an underground toilet chamber.