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Badgers Weasels Skunks and Otters: Mustelidae - European Badger (meles Meles): Species Accounts

july accessed conservation wildlife

Physical characteristics: European badgers have broad bodies, short legs, and short tails. They have gray backs, black undersides and legs. The white face has two parallel black stripes that start at the snout, cover the eyes, and extend to the ears. Their loose coat allows the badger to wriggle out of a predator's grasp or to quickly turn around and bite back. Long, strong front claws are designed for digging dirt and wasp nests, beehives, and insect larvae in grass roots. A see-through layer of skin protects the eyes from flying dirt and provides moisture. The back feet work like shovels for pushing out dirt. The badger weighs 22 to 44 pounds (10 to 20 kilograms), with a body length of 24 to 33 inches (60 to 85 centimeters) and a tail length of 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters).


Geographic range: European badgers occur in all European countries and a number of Asian countries, including China, Japan, and Iran.


Habitat: European badgers prefer dense forests, but also inhabit open fields, hedgerows, and parks.

European badgers are nocturnal and live together in large underground connected tunnels called "setts." (Hans Reinhard/Bruce Coleman Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Diet: Earthworms make up about 50 percent of the European badger's diet. They also feed on small rodents, hedgehogs, snails, insects and their larvae, as well as fruits, seeds, mushrooms, and roots.


Behavior and reproduction: European badgers live together in social groups called clans, consisting of twelve to fourteen adults and their cubs. A dominant male and female rule the clan. Badgers are territorial, marking the boundaries of their home range with feces and an anal secretion called musk. They also mark one another with musk for easy identification. Badgers forage for food at night. In winter, they sleep for days but do not truly hibernate.

Badgers mate during most of the year but implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterus can be delayed by about ten months, resulting in almost all cubs being born in February or March, when food is abundant. A litter averages two to three cubs, but may have as many as five. The young stay with their mother until fall.

European badgers and people: European badgers have damaged gardens, lawns, and golf courses. Scientific experiments in Great Britain found that badger are carriers of bovine tuberculosis (bTB), and can transmit the disease to cattle. Government-sponsored killing of badgers in areas where cattle had developed bTB ended because it did not reduce cattle infection. The government continues to monitor the situation.


Conservation status: European badgers are not considered a threatened species. ∎

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Books:

Darbyshire, John, and Laurie Campbell. Badgers. Moray, U.K.: Colin Baxter Photography, 1998.

Foster-Turley, Pat, Sheila Macdonald, Chris Mason, and the IUCN/SSC Otter Specialist Group, eds. Otters: An Action Plan for their Conservation. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN, 1990.

Ivy, Bill. Weasels. Danbury, CT: Grolier Educational Corporation, 1986.

Love, John A. Sea Otters. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 1992.

Nowak, Ronald M. "Old World Badger." Walker's Mammals of the World Online 5.1. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/walkers_mammals_of_the_world/carnivora/carnivora.mustelidae.meles.html (accessed July 7, 2004).

Paine, Stefani. The World of the Sea Otter. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books, 1993.

Periodicals:

Bauman, Richard. "Getting Skunked: Understanding the Antics Behind the Smell." Backpacker (May 1993): 30–31.

Conniff, Richard. "You Can Call Him 'Cute' or You Can Call Him Hungry." Smithsonian (February 1997): 81–91.

King, Carolyn M. "Mustela erminea." Mammalian Species 195 (April 8, 1983): 1–8.

Line, Les. "The Benefits of Badgers." National Wildlife (December-January 1995): 18–23.

Wade-Smith, Julia, and B. J. Verts. "Mephitis mephitis." Mammalian Species 173 (May 25, 1982): 1–7.

Weidensaul, Scott. "The Rarest of the Rare." Smithsonian (November 2000): 118–128.

Web sites:

"Black-footed ferret." U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. http://endangered. fws.gov/i/A07.html (accessed on July 7, 2004).

National Federation of Badger Groups. http://www.badger.org.uk/tb/ (accessed on July 7, 2004).

Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources. "Furbearer Profiles: The Striped Skunk." New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. http://www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dfwmr/wildlife/wildgame/skunkinny.htm (accessed on July 7, 2004).

Badgerland Home Page. http://www.badgerland.co.uk/main.html (accessed on July 7, 2004).

"Mustelids." Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. http://www.desertmuseum.org/books/nhsd_mustelids.html (accessed on July 7, 2004).

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