The boundary between the distribution ranges of the European M. meles and Asian badger M. leucurus is the Volga River (up to the Middle Volga). M. meles is distributed west of the Volga River, M. leucurus is distributed from the Volga River to the east. The European badger M. meles was found in the Nizhnii Novgorod Province (on both sides of Volga River). M. meles is distributed in the west and north districts of Kirov Province, the east and south of Kirov Province are inhabited by M. leucurus. The sympatric zone between these species is the country between the Volga and Kama rivers (Abramov et al. 2003).
Eurasian badgers (Meles meles) are widespread throughout the Palearctic region. They are present from as far west as Ireland and Spain to the eastern edges of Russia, China, and Japan. The northern boundary of the Eurasian badger range extends to the Russian Arctic Circle and Finland, and the southern boundary occurs along the southeastern coast of China.
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native )
Distribution in Egypt
Localized (North Sinai border).
Eurasian badgers have a stocky body with short robust limbs and a short tail. Female mass ranges from 6.6 to 13.9 kg, and male mass ranges from 9.1 to 16.7 kg. Males and females do not differ in head-body length, which ranges from 56 cm to 90 cm. Tail length ranges from 11.5 cm to 20.2 cm. Eurasian badgers are known for their distinguishing dark stripes that run from their nose, through the eyes and to each ear. These two dark stripes are separated by a white medial stripe. Dorsal pelage is grizzled gray, and each individual hair is white at the base and darker at the tip. Venter pelage tends to be dark gray or black. Their skulls (dorsal view, ventral view, lateral view) are massive and heavy with a prominent sagittal crest and short, triangular paroccipital processes. Eurasian badgers have flattened molars, small incisors, and prominent canines. The teeth of Eurasian badgers are well suited for an omnivorous diet. The dental formula is I3/3, C1/1, P4/4/, M1/2 = 38.
Throughout their geographic range, Eurasian badgers are divided into 24 subspecies, eleven of which can be found in the former Soviet Union. Subspecies generally differ from each other by general color tone and often, general dimensions, skull size, upper molar form, and presence of premolars. However, most of these characteristics are not well-defined.
Range mass: 6.6 to 16.7 kg.
Average mass: 11.7 kg.
Range length: 56 to 90 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Average basal metabolic rate: 16.647 W.
Eurasian badgers are highly adaptable and live in a wide variety of environments. Ideal habitat includes deciduous, conifer, or mixed woodlands adjacent to open fields. In addition, they may occupy hedges, scrub, and riverine habitats as well as agricultural land, grassland, steppes, and semi-deserts. When searching for a sett location, they prefer tree-, shrub- and rock-covered areas that will cover the entrance to their sett. Other favorable sett conditions include well-drained soils that that are easy to excavate and are relatively free of human disturbance. They also prefer areas with a moderately wet climate and rich pastures, as these are optimal conditions for earthworms, one of their primary prey. Average elevation for Eurasian badgers is 1000 m. Occasionally, they are found in suburban and urban areas of Great Britain, where human population densities are high.
Average elevation: 1000 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; scrub forest
Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural ; riparian
Habitat and Ecology
Earthworms are one Eurasian badgers' primary food sources and many aspects of badger behavior revolve around attaining them. Eurasian badgers eat multiple species of earthworms. When foraging for earthworms, badgers remain in a relatively small space (roughly one hectare). They grab ahold of their prey using their incisors, and if the earthworm breaks into multiple pieces, Eurasian badgers find and eat the remaining pieces. Eurasian badgers are solitary foragers, regardless of social structure. In addition to earthworms, Eurasian badgers also prey on rabbits, voles, shrews, moles, mice, rats and hedgehogs. They also eat a wide variety of large insects, including beetles, leatherjackets, caterpillars, and wasps. They target wasps, in particular, by eating their nests. Wasps are consumed by badgers seasonally and in larger volumes. Eurasian badgers also eat carrion and occasionally eat birds, frogs, fish, newts, lizards, slugs, and snails. Eurasian badgers also feed on more than 30 different kinds of fruit, including pears, plums, raspberries, cherries, strawberries, acorns, beechmast, and blackberries. Some cereals that they consume include maize, oats, wheat, and occasionally barley. Badgers also eat tubers and occasionally fungi.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; amphibians; reptiles; fish; carrion ; insects; mollusks; terrestrial worms
Plant Foods: roots and tubers; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit
Other Foods: fungus
Primary Diet: carnivore (Vermivore); omnivore
Eurasian badgers primarily prey on invertebrates and may help control certain insect pest populations. Because they include a large amount of fruit in their diet, they may serve as seed dispersers throughout their native range, and one study found that only a small proportion of seeds ingested by badgers were damaged beyond the point of germination. Eurasian badgers are hosts for many parasites, including cestodes, flat worms, round worms, fleas, ticks, and lice.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds
- flatworms (Itygonimus lorum)
- roundworm (Aelurostrongylus pridhami)
- roundworm (Physaloptera sibirica)
- roundworm (Pearsonema plica)
- roundworm (Uncinaria criniformis)
- roundworm (Mastophorus muris)
- roundworm (Aonchotheca putoril)
- roundworm (Aonchotheca putoril)
- roundworm (Angiostrongylus vasorum)
- roundworm (Strongyloides)
- roundworm (Trichinella)
- roundworm (Uncinaria criniformis)
- roundworm (Vigisospirura potekhina hugoti)
- flatworm (Atriotaena incisa)
- flatworm (Dilepis undula)
- flatworm (Mesocestoides)
- tick (Ixodes ricinus)
- tick (Ixodes canisuga)
- tick (Ixodes hexagonus)
- tick (Ixodes ricinus)
- tick (Ixodes canisuga)
- flea (Paraceras melis)
- flea (Chaetopsylla trichosa)
- flea (Pulex irritans)
Apart from humans, adult badgers do not have natural predators. However, wolves, lynxes, and bears overlap geographical ranges with Eurasian badgers and may occasionally prey on them, especially younger badgers. Their fossorial and group lifestyles may help them avoid potential predators. Finally, badgers are notoriously aggressive, which likely plays an important role in predation avoidance.
Animal / parasite / ectoparasite
adult of Lipoptena cervi ectoparasitises Meles meles
Other: unusual host/prey
Animal / predator
Meles meles is predator of nest of Bombus
Animal / predator
adult of Meles meles is predator of adult of Timarcha tenebricosa
Animal / dung saprobe
fruitbody of Psathyrella scatophila is saprobic in/on dung or excretions of dung of Meles meles
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
Eurasian badgers communicate in many different ways. They frequently use postures and visual stances to indicate aggressive behavior. Tail flicking and scraping the hind legs are signs of aggression when individuals feel threatened. Raising of the tail and piloerection are signs of sexual excitement. Badgers also communicate with each other through vocalizations, some of which may be difficult to distinguish from others. Growls from both males and females signify aggression and defense when animals feel threatened. Higher pitched wailing noises signify being attacked. Gurgle noises are used either in aggressive attack or sexual pursuit. Cubs exhibit "whickering" or "keckering" while playing or in trouble. Alarm calls for signaling danger to the rest of the group have not been observed.
Scent-marking is a key form of communication in Eurasian badgers. Communal latrines as well as subcaudal and anal gland secretions are used to mark group territories. In addition, scent from urine may also indicate the estrus condition of females. Allo-marking of conspecifics using secretions from the sub-caudal gland has also been observed. The purpose of allo-marking may be to create a group-specific odor.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
The oldest known wild Eurasian badger lived to be 14 years old, however few exceed 6 years of age in the wild. In captivity, badgers may live up to 19 years. Mortality rates of cubs within their first year are high, ranging from 50 to 65%. The mortality rate for adults is 30% for males and 24% for females.
Status: wild: 14 (high) years.
Status: captivity: 19 (high) years.
Status: wild: 6 years.
Status: captivity: 16.0 years.
Status: captivity: 16.2 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Eurasian badgers are usually polygynous. For those living in social groups, only the dominant male and female mate. Males do not defend access to estrous females from other males, but expend much more energy protecting mates from potential predators, such as African lions. Extra-group matings occur frequently. Females may advertise estrous to extra-group males through scent marking. Often, males expand territory ranges during breeding season in an attempt to include more females within their territories, and thus increase their number of matings.
Mating System: polygynous ; polygynandrous (promiscuous)
Eurasian badgers breed year-round; however, most breeding occurs during late winter/early spring (February through May) and during late summer/early autumn (August through October). Gestation last 9 to 12 months, and litters range from 1 to 6 cubs, with an average of 3. Average birth-weight for Eurasian badgers is 75 grams. Cubs emerge from their dens around 8 to 10 weeks after birth. On average, cubs are weaned by 2.5 months, and male and female Eurasian badgers reach sexual maturity by about one year after birth.
In areas with low population densities where badgers tend to be solitary, 90 to 95% of adult females successfully produce and implant blastocysts that proceed to full term pregnancy. Only around 40% of females from high population density areas successfully implant blastocysts and proceed to full term pregnancy. Although more than 90% of females in a given social group are capable of reproducing, most do not. Usually, a single dominant female reproduces, and dominant sows are known to kill the cubs of intragroup sows. However, more than one female in the social group may successfully breed depending upon the quality and abundance of available food resources and the number of setts in the group's territory.
Once eggs are fertilized, they may delay implantation into the uterus. This process occurs during the blastocyst stage for Eurasian badgers and is called delayed implantation or embryonic diapause. Implantation of the egg is partially governed by abiotic conditions such as photoperiod and temperature. Delayed implantation in female Eurasian badgers is coupled with superfetation, or the ability to conceive while pregnant. As a result, mixed-paternity litters are not uncommon. This is beneficial to females as it reduces the risk of infanticide by male badgers.
Breeding interval: Once per year
Breeding season: Can breed throughout the year, but breeding peaks from February to May as well as June to September.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 6.
Average number of offspring: 3.
Range gestation period: 9 to 12 months.
Average weaning age: 2.5 months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous ; delayed implantation
Average birth mass: 80 g.
Average number of offspring: 3.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 365 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 365 days.
Female Eurasian badgers nurse cubs as well as provide solid food after weaning. Non-breeding females have been observed grooming and guarding young in the absence of their mother, but generally Eurasian badgers are not cooperative. Parental investment in Eurasian badgers is minimal, and males provide no care to cubs. In social Eurasian badgers, offspring often have a post-independence association with their mother.
Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female); post-independence association with parents
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Meles meles
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
-- end --
Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Meles meles
Public Records: 4
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
Meles meles is classified as a species of "least concern" on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species. It is widespread and abundant throughout the Palearctic region and densities have increased in Europe over the last decade. Despite this, changing climate patterns, especially during the climatically variable fall and spring seasons, may hinder badger survival. Warmer springs may cause badgers to end their extended torpor early, thus driving them to search for food during months when little sustenance is available.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1996Lower Risk/least concern(Baillie and Groombridge 1996)
Status in Egypt
The species is abundant throughout its range. In central Europe the population is increasing due to the reduction of rabies. In western Ukraine the population has increased. In the United Kingdom (1980s-1990s) there was a 77% increase in the total population size. There are large differences in population densities across its range.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Eurasian badgers may damage agricultural crops as well as fruit gardens in populated areas. They are also known to damage buildings, fences, and gardens due to burrowing. They occasionally kill poultry. Eurasian badgers are vectors for tuberculosis and may occasionally transmit the disease to cattle, which is particularly costly to farmers.
Negative Impacts: crop pest; causes or carries domestic animal disease
Eurasian badgers may control hedgehog and wasp populations locally. In addition, their hair is frequently used in commercially produced brushes and their skin is often used to make rugs.
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material; controls pest population
The European badger (Meles meles) is a species of badger in the family Mustelidae and is native to almost all of Europe and some parts of the Middle East. Several subspecies are recognised; the nominate subspecies (Meles meles meles) predominates over most of Europe. The European badger is classified as being of Least Concern by the IUCN as it has a wide range and a large population size which is stable, and even increasing in some areas.
The European badger is a powerfully built black, white and grey animal with a small head, a stocky body and short tail. Its weight varies, being 7–13 kg (15–29 lb) in spring but building up to 15–17 kg (33–37 lb) in autumn before the winter sleep period. It is nocturnal and is a social, burrowing animal that sleeps during the day in one of several setts in its territorial range. These burrows, which may house several badger families, have extensive systems of underground passages and chambers and have multiple entrances. Some setts have been in use for decades. Badgers are very fussy over the cleanliness of their burrow, carrying in fresh bedding and removing soiled material, and they defecate in latrines strategically situated around their territory.
Though classified as a carnivore, the European badger feeds on a wide variety of plant and animal foods. The diet consists mainly of earthworms, large insects, small mammals, carrion, cereals and root tubers. Litters of up to five cubs are produced in spring. The young are weaned a few months later but usually remain within the family group. The European badger is generally a peaceful animal, having been known to share its burrow with other species such as rabbits, red foxes and raccoon dogs, but it can be ferocious when provoked, a trait which has been exploited in the now illegal blood sport of badger-baiting. The spread of bovine tuberculosis has been attributed to badgers, however recent peer reviewed reports state that the issue is more to do with cattle management.
- 1 Nomenclature
- 2 Origin
- 3 Description
- 4 Behaviour
- 5 Distribution and habitat
- 6 Status
- 7 Diseases and parasites
- 8 Relationships with humans
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Until the mid-18th century, European badgers were variously known in Britain as brock, pate, grey and bawson. "Brock" still persists in some areas, the root word likely being the Danish word brok, which also means badger. For example, in Irish Gaelic, the word for badger is broc. The name "bawson" is derived from "bawsened", which refers to something striped with white. "Pate" is a local name which was once popular in northern England. The name "badget" was once common, but restricted to Norfolk, while "earth dog" was used in southern Ireland. The badger is commonly referred to in Welsh as a "mochyn daear" (earth pig). 
The species likely evolved from the Chinese Meles thorali of the early Pleistocene. The modern species originated during the early Middle Pleistocene, with fossil sites occurring in Episcopia, Grombasek, Süssenborn, Hundsheim, Erpfingen, Koneprusy, Mosbach 2, and Stránská Skála. A comparison between fossil and living specimens shows a marked progressive adaptation to omnivory, namely in the increase in the molars' surface areas and the modification of the carnassials. Occasionally, badger bones may be discovered in strata from much earlier dates, due to the burrowing habits of the animal.
Meles meles meles
|Linnaeus, 1758||A large subspecies with a strongly developed sagittal crest, it has a soft pelage and relatively dense underfur. The back has a relatively pure silvery-grey tone, while the main tone of the head is pure white. The dark stripes are wide and black, while the white fields fully extend along the upper and lateral parts of the neck. It can weigh up to 20–24 kg in autumn, with some specimens attaining even larger sizes.||All Europe, save for Rhodes, Crete and Spain. Its eastern range encompasses the European area of the former Soviet Union eastward to the Volga, Crimea, Ciscaucasia, and the northern Caucasus||alba (Gmelin, 1788)|
britannicus (Satunin, 1905)
Meles meles arcalus
Meles meles canascens
|Blanford, 1875||A small subspecies with a dirty-greyish back with brown highlights, its head is identical to Meles m. meles, though with weaker crests, and its upper molars are elongated in a similar way to the Asian badger||Transcaucasia, Kopet Dag, Turkmenia, Iran, Afghanistan and possibly Asia Minor||minor (Satunin, 1905)|
ponticus (Blackler, 1916)
Meles meles heptneri
|Ognev, 1931||A large subspecies, it exhibits several traits of the Asian badger, namely its very pale, dull, dirty-greyish-ocherous colour and narrow head stripes.||Steppe region of northeastern Ciscaucasia, the Kalmytsk steppes and the Volga delta|
Meles meles marianensis
|Graells, 1897||Iberian Peninsula||mediterraneus (Barrett-Hamilton, 1899)|
Meles meles milleri
|Baryshnikov, Puzachenko and Abramov, 2003||A small subspecies||South-west Norway|
Meles meles rhodius
Meles meles severzovi
|Heptner, 1940||A small subspecies with a relatively pure, silvery-grey back with no yellow sheen. The head stripes are wide and occupy the whole ear. Its skull exhibits several features which are transitory between the Asian and European badger||Right tributary region of the Panj River, the upper Amu Darya, Pamiro-Alay system, the Fergana Valley and its adjoining southern and mountains||bokharensis (Petrov,1953)|
European badgers are powerfully built animals with small heads, thick, short necks, stocky, wedge-shaped bodies and short tails. Their feet are digitigrade and short, with five toes on each foot. The limbs are short and massive, with naked lower surfaces on the feet. The claws are strong, elongated and have an obtuse end, which assists in digging. The claws are not retractable, and the hind claws wear with age. Old badgers sometimes have their hind claws almost completely worn away from constant use. Their snouts, which are used for digging and probing, are muscular and flexible. The eyes are small and the ears short and tipped with white. Whiskers are present on the snout and above the eyes. Boars typically have broader heads, thicker necks and narrower tails than sows, which are sleeker, have narrower, less domed heads and fluffier tails. The guts of badgers are longer than those of red foxes, reflecting their omnivorous diet. The small intestine has a mean length of 5.36 metres (17.6 ft) and lacks a cecum. Both sexes have three pairs of nipples but these are more developed in females. European badgers cannot flex their backs as martens, polecats and wolverines can, nor can they stand fully erect like honey badgers, though they can move quickly at full gallop. Adults measure 25–30 cm (9.8–11.8 in) in shoulder height, 60–90 cm (24–35 in) in body length, 12–24 cm (4.7–9.4 in) in tail length, 7.5–13 cm (3.0–5.1 in) in hind foot length and 3.5–7 cm (1.4–2.8 in) in ear height. Males (or boars) slightly exceed females (or sows) in measurements, but can weigh considerably more. Their weights vary seasonally, growing from spring to autumn and reaching a peak just before the winter. During the summer, they weigh 7–13 kg (15–29 lb) and 15–17 kg (33–37 lb) in autumn. Sows can attain a top weight of around 17.2 kg (38 lb), while exceptionally large boars have been reported in autumn. The heaviest verified was 27.2 kg (60 lb), though unverified specimens have been reported to 30.8 kg (68 lb) and even 34 kg (75 lb) (if so, the heaviest weight for any terrestrial mustelid). Although their sense of smell is acute, their eyesight is monochromatic as has been shown by their lack of reaction to red lanterns. Only moving objects attract their attention. Their hearing is no better than that of humans.
European badger skulls are quite massive, heavy and elongated. Their braincases are oval in outline, while the facial part of their skulls is elongated and narrow. Adults have prominent sagittal crests which can reach 15 mm tall in old males, and are more strongly developed than those of honey badgers. Aside from anchoring the jaw muscles, the thickness of the crests protect their skulls from hard blows. Similar to martens, the dentition of European badgers is well-suited for their omnivorous diets. Their incisors are small and chisel-shaped, their canine teeth are prominent and their carnassials are not overly specialised. Their molars are flattened and adapted for grinding. Their jaws are powerful enough to crush most bones; a provoked badger was once reported as biting down on a man's wrist so severely that his hand had to be amputated. The dental formula is:
Scent glands are present below the base of the tail and on the anus. The subcaudal gland secretes a musky-smelling, cream-coloured fatty substance, while the anal glands secrete a stronger-smelling, yellowish-brown fluid.
In winter, the fur on the back and flanks is long and coarse, consisting of bristly guard hairs with a sparse, soft undercoat. The belly fur consists of short, sparse hairs, with skin being visible in the inguinal region. Guard hair length on the middle of the back is 75–80 mm (3.0–3.1 in) in winter. Prior to the winter, the throat, lower neck, chest and legs are black. The belly is of a lighter, brownish tint, while the inguinal region is brownish-grey. The general colour of the back and sides is light silvery-grey, with straw-coloured highlights on the sides. The tail has long and coarse hairs, and is generally the same colour as the back. Two black bands pass along the head, starting from the upper lip and passing upwards to the whole base of the ears. The bands sometimes extend along the neck and merge with the colour of the upper body. The front parts of the bands are 15 mm (0.6 in), and widen to 45–55 mm (1.8–2.2 in) in the ear region. A wide, white band extends from the nose tip through the forehead and crown. White markings occur on the lower part of the head, and extend backwards to a great part of the neck's length. The summer fur is much coarser, shorter and sparser, and is deeper in colour, with the black tones becoming brownish, sometimes with yellowish tinges. Partial melanism in badgers is known, and albinos are not uncommon. Albino badgers can be pure white or yellowish with pink eyes. Erythristic badgers are more common than the former, being characterised by having a sandy-red colour on the usually black parts of the body. Yellow badgers are also known.
Social and territorial behaviours
European badgers are the most social of badgers, forming groups of six adults on average, though larger associations of up to 23 individuals have been recorded. Group size may be related to habitat composition. Under optimal conditions, badger territories can be as small as 30 ha, but may be as large as 150 ha in marginal areas. Badger territories can be identified by the presence of communal latrines and well-worn paths. It is mainly males that are involved in territorial aggression. A hierarchical social system is thought to exist among badgers and large powerful boars seem to assert dominance over smaller males. Large boars sometimes intrude into neighbouring territories during the main mating season in early spring. Sparring and more vicious fights generally result from territorial defence in the breeding season. However, in general, animals within and outside a group show considerable tolerance of each other. Boars tend to mark their territories more actively than sows, with their territorial activity increasing during the mating season in early spring. Badgers groom each other very thoroughly with their claws and teeth. Grooming may have a social function. They are crepuscular and nocturnal in habits. Aggression among badgers is largely associated with territorial defence and mating. When fighting, they bite each other on the neck and rump, while running and chasing each other and injuries incurred in such fights can be severe and sometimes fatal. When attacked by dogs or sexually excited, badgers may raise their tails and fluff up their fur.
European badgers have an extensive vocal repertoire. When threatened they emit deep growls and when fighting make low kekkering noises. They bark when surprised, whicker when playing or in distress, and emit a piercing scream when alarmed or frightened.
Reproduction and development
Estrus in European badgers lasts four to six days and may occur throughout the year, though there is a peak in spring. Sexual maturity in boars is usually attained at the age of twelve to fifteen months but this can range from nine months to two years. Males are normally fecund during January–May, with spermatogenesis declining in summer. Sows usually begin ovulating in their second year, though some exceptionally begin at nine months. They can mate at any time of the year, though the main peak occurs in February–May, when mature sows are in postpartal estrus and young animals experience their first estrus. Matings occurring outside this period typically occur in sows which either failed to mate earlier in the year or matured slowly. Badgers are usually monogamous; boars typically mate with one female for life, whereas sows have been known to mate with more than one male. Mating lasts for fifteen to sixty minutes, though the pair may briefly copulate for a minute or two when the sow is not in estrus. A delay of two to nine months precedes the fertilised eggs implanting into the wall of the uterus, though matings in December can result in immediate implantation. Ordinarily, implantation happens in December, with a gestation period lasting seven weeks. Cubs are usually born in mid-January to mid-March within underground chambers containing bedding. In areas where the countryside is waterlogged, cubs may be born above ground in buildings. Typically, only dominant sows can breed, as they suppress the reproduction of subordinate females.
The average litter consists of one to five cubs. Although many cubs are sired by resident males, up to 54% can be fathered by boars from different colonies. Dominant sows may kill the cubs of subordinates. Cubs are born pink, with greyish, silvery fur and fused eyelids. Neonatal badgers are 12 cm (5 in) in body length on average and weigh 75 to 132 grams (2.6 to 4.7 oz), with cubs from large litters being smaller. By three to five days, their claws become pigmented, and individual dark hairs begin to appear. Their eyes open at four to five weeks and their milk teeth erupt about the same time. They emerge from their setts at eight weeks of age, and begin to be weaned at twelve weeks, though they may still suckle until they are four to five months old. Subordinate females assist the mother in guarding, feeding and grooming the cubs. Cubs fully develop their adult coats at six to nine weeks. In areas with medium to high badger populations, dispersal from the natal group is uncommon, though badgers may temporarily visit other colonies. Badgers can live for up to about fifteen years in the wild.
Like other badger species, European badgers are burrowing animals. However, the dens they construct (called setts) are the most complex, and are passed on from generation to generation. The number of exits in one sett can vary from a few to fifty. These setts can be vast, and can sometimes accommodate multiple families. When this happens, each family occupies its own passages and nesting chambers. Some setts may have exits which are only used in times of danger or play. A typical passage has a 22–63 cm (8.7–24.8 in) wide base and a 14–32 cm (5.5–12.6 in) height. Three sleeping chambers occur in a family unit, some of which are open at both ends. The nesting chamber is located 5–10 m (5.5–10.9 yd) from the opening, and is situated more than a 1 m (1.1 yd) underground, in some cases 2.3 m (2.5 yd). Generally, the passages are 35–81 m (38–89 yd) long. The nesting chamber is on average 74 cm × 76 cm (29 in × 30 in), and are 38 cm (15 in) high. Badgers dig and collect bedding throughout the year, particularly in autumn and spring. Sett maintenance is usually carried out by subordinate sows and dominant boars. The chambers are frequently lined with bedding, brought in on dry nights, which consists of grass, bracken, straw, leaves and moss. Up to 30 bundles can be carried to the sett on a single night. European badgers are fastidiously clean animals which regularly clear out and discard old bedding. During the winter, they may take their bedding outside on sunny mornings and retrieve it later in the day. Spring cleaning is connected with the birth of cubs, and may occur several times during the summer to prevent parasite levels building up. If a badger dies within the sett, its conspecifics will seal off the chamber and dig a new one. Some badgers will drag their dead out of the sett and bury them outside. A sett is almost invariably located near a tree, which is used by badgers for stretching or claw scraping. Badgers defecate in latrines, which are located near the sett and at strategic locations on territorial boundaries or near places with abundant food supplies. In extreme cases, when there is a lack of suitable burrowing grounds, badgers may move into haystacks in winter. They may share their setts with red foxes or European rabbits. The badgers may provide protection for the rabbits against other predators. The rabbits usually avoid predation by the badgers by inhabiting smaller, hard to reach chambers.
As with bears, winter sleep in badgers is not accompanied by the lowering of body temperature or bodily functions. Badgers begin to prepare for winter sleep during late summer by accumulating fat reserves, which reach a peak in October. During this period, the sett is cleaned and the nesting chamber is filled with bedding. Upon retiring to sleep, badgers block their sett entrances with dry leaves and earth. They typically stop leaving their setts once snow has fallen. In Russia, badgers retire for their winter sleep from late October to mid-November and emerge from their setts in March and early April. In areas such as England and Transcaucasia, where winters are less harsh, badgers either forgo winter sleep entirely or spend long periods underground, emerging in mild spells.
Along with brown bears, European badgers are among the least carnivorous members of the Carnivora; they are highly adaptable and opportunistic omnivores, whose diet encompasses a wide range of animals and plants. Earthworms are their most important food source, followed by large insects, carrion, cereals, fruit and small mammals including rabbits, mice, shrews, moles and hedgehogs. Insect prey includes chafers, dung and ground beetles, caterpillars, leatherjackets, and the nests of wasps and bumblebees. Badgers (Meles meles) are able to destroy wasp nests, consuming the occupants, combs, and envelope, such as that of Vespula rufa nests, since thick skin and body hair protect the badgers from stings. Cereal food includes wheat, oats, maize and occasionally barley. Fruits include windfall apples, pears, plums, blackberries, bilberries, raspberries, strawberries, acorns, beechmast, pignuts and wild arum corms.
Occasionally, they feed on medium to large birds, amphibians, small reptiles, including tortoises, snails, slugs, fungi, and green food such as clover and grass, particularly in winter and during droughts. Badgers characteristically capture large numbers of one food type in each hunt. Generally, they do not eat more than 0.5 kg (1.1 lb) of food per day, with young specimens yet to attain one year of age eating more than adults. An adult badger weighing 15 kg (33 lb) eats a quantity of food equal to 3.4% of its body weight. Badgers typically eat prey on the spot, and rarely transport it to their setts. Surplus killing has been observed in chicken coops.
Badgers prey on rabbits throughout the year, especially during times when their young are available. They catch young rabbits by locating their position in their nest by scent, then dig vertically downwards to it. In mountainous or hilly districts, where vegetable food is scarce, badgers rely on rabbits as a principal food source. Adult rabbits are usually avoided, unless they are wounded or caught in traps. They consume them by turning them inside out and eating the meat, leaving the inverted skin uneaten. Hedgehogs are eaten in a similar manner. In areas where badgers are common, hedgehogs are scarce. Some rogue badgers may kill lambs, though this is very rare; they may be erroneously implicated in lamb killings through the presence of discarded wool and bones near their setts, though foxes, which occasionally live alongside badgers, are often the culprits, as badgers do not transport food to their earths. They typically kill lambs by biting them behind the shoulder. Poultry and game birds are also taken only rarely. Some badgers may build their setts in close proximity to poultry or game farms without ever causing damage. In the rare instances in which badgers do kill reared birds, the killings usually occur in February–March, when food is scarce due to harsh weather and increases in badger populations. Badgers can easily breach bee hives with their jaws, and are mostly indifferent to bee stings, even when set upon by swarms.
Relationships with other non-human predators
European badgers have few natural enemies. Wolves, lynxes and dogs can pose a threat to badgers, though deaths caused by them are rare. They may live alongside red foxes in isolated sections of large burrows. The two species possibly tolerate each other out of commensalism; foxes provide badgers with food scraps, while badgers maintain the shared burrow's cleanliness. However, cases are known of badgers driving vixens from their dens and destroying their litters without eating them. Raccoon dogs may extensively use badger setts for shelter. There are many known cases of badgers and raccoon dogs wintering in the same hole, possibly because badgers enter hibernation two weeks earlier than the latter, and leave two weeks later. In exceptional cases, badger and raccoon dog cubs may coexist in the same burrow. Badgers may drive out or kill raccoon dogs if they overstay their welcome.
Distribution and habitat
The European badger is native to most of Europe and parts of western Asia. In Europe its range includes Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Crete, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the Ukraine. In Asia it occurs in Afghanistan, China (Xinjiang), Iran, Iraq and Israel.
The distributional boundary between the ranges of European and Asian badgers is the Volga River, the European species being situated on the western bank. They are common in European Russia, with 30,000 individuals having been recorded there in 1990. They are abundant and increasing throughout their range, partly due to a reduction in rabies in Central Europe. In the UK, badgers experienced a 77% increase in numbers during the 1980s and 1990s. The badger population in Great Britain in 2012 is estimated to be 300,000.
The European badger is found in deciduous and mixed woodlands, clearings, spinneys, pastureland and scrub, including Mediterranean maquis shrubland. It has adapted to life in suburban areas and urban parks. In mountainous areas it occurs up to an altitude of 2,000 metres (6,600 ft).
Badger tracking to study their behavior and territories has been done in Ireland using Global Positioning Systems.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature rates the European badger as being of Least Concern. This is because it is a relatively common species with a wide range and populations are generally stable. In Central Europe it has become more abundant in recent decades due to a reduction in the incidence of rabies. In other areas it has also fared well, with increases in numbers in Western Europe and the United Kingdom. However, in some areas of intensive agriculture it has reduced in numbers due to loss of habitat and in others it is hunted as a pest.
Diseases and parasites
Bovine tuberculosis (bovine TB) caused by Mycobacterium bovis is a major mortality factor in badgers, though infected badgers can live and successfully breed for years before succumbing. The disease was first observed in badgers in 1951 in Switzerland where they were believed to have contracted it from chamois (Rupicarpa rupicarpa) or roe deer (Capreolus capreolus). It was detected in the United Kingdom in 1971 where it was linked to an outbreak of bovine TB in cows. The evidence appears to indicate that the badger is the primary reservoir of infection for cattle in the south west of England, Wales and Ireland. Since then there has been considerable controversy as to whether culling badgers will effectively reduce or eliminate bovine TB in cattle.
Badgers are vulnerable to the mustelid herpesvirus-1, as well as rabies and canine distemper, though the latter two are absent in Great Britain. Other diseases found in European badgers include arteriosclerosis, pneumonia, pleurisy, nephritis, enteritis, polyarthritis and lymphosarcoma.
Internal parasites of badgers include trematodes, nematodes and several species of tapeworm. Ectoparasites carried by them include the fleas Paraceras melis (the badger flea), Chaetopsylla trichosa and Pulex irritans, the lice Trichodectes melis and the ticks Ixodes ricinus, I. canisuga, I. hexagonus, I. reduvius and I. melicula. They also suffer from mange. They spend much time grooming, individuals concentrating on their own ventral areas, alternating one side with the other, while social grooming occurs with one individual grooming another on its dorsal surface. Fleas tried to avoid the scratching, retreating rapidly downwards and backwards through the fur. This was in contrast to fleas away from their host which ran upwards and jumped when disturbed. The grooming seems to disadvantage fleas rather than merely having a social function.
Relationships with humans
In folklore and literature
Badgers play a part in European folklore and are featured in modern literature. In Irish mythology, badgers are portrayed as shape-shifters and kinsmen to Tadg, the king of Tara and foster father of Cormac mac Airt. In one story, Tadg berates his adopted son for having killed and prepared some badgers for dinner. In German folklore, the badger is portrayed as a cautious, peace-loving Philistine, who loves more than anything his home, family and comfort, though he can become aggressive if surprised. He is a cousin of Reynard the Fox, whom he uselessly tries to convince to return to the path of righteousness.
In Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows, Mr. Badger is depicted as a gruff, solitary figure who "simply hates society", yet is a good friend to Mole and Ratty. As a friend of Toad's now-deceased father, he is often firm and serious with Toad, but at the same time generally patient and well-meaning towards him. He can be seen as a wise hermit, a good leader and gentleman, embodying common sense. He is also brave and a skilled fighter, and helps rid Toad Hall of invaders from the wild wood.
In T.H. White's Arthurian series The Once and Future King, the young King Arthur is transformed into a badger by Merlin as part of his education. He meets with an older badger who tells him "I can only teach you two things - to dig, and love your home." 
A villainous badger named Tommy Brock appears in Beatrix Potter's 1912 book The Tale of Mr. Tod. He is shown kidnapping the children of Benjamin Bunny and his wife Flopsy, and hiding them in an oven at the home of Mr. Tod the fox, whom he fights at the end of the book. The portrayal of the badger as a filthy animal which appropriates fox dens was criticised from a naturalistic viewpoint, though the inconsistencies are few and employed to create individual characters rather than evoke an archetypical fox and badger. A wise old badger named Trufflehunter appears in C. S. Lewis' Prince Caspian, where he aids Caspian X in his struggle against King Miraz.
A badger takes a prominent role in Colin Dann's The Animals of Farthing Wood series as second in command to Fox. The badger is also the house symbol for Hufflepuff in the "Harry Potter" book series. The Redwall series also has the Badger Lords, who rule the extinct volcano fortress of Salamandastron and are renowned as fierce warriors. The children's television series Bodger and Badger was popular on CBBC during the 1990s and was set around the mishaps of a mashed potato-loving badger and his human companion.
European badgers are of little significance to hunting economies, though they may be actively hunted locally. Methods used for hunting badgers include catching them in jaw traps, ambushing them at their setts with guns, smoking them out of their earths and through the use of specially bred dogs such as Fox Terriers and Dachshunds to dig them out. Badgers are, however, notoriously durable animals; their skins are thick, loose and covered in long hair which acts as protection, and their heavily ossified skulls allow them to shrug off most blunt traumas, as well as shotgun pellets.
Badger-baiting was once a popular blood sport, in which badgers were captured alive, placed in boxes and forced to fight dogs. It was outlawed in the United Kingdom as early as 1835, with the Cruelty to Animals Act. The practice of baiting of animals is now specifically forbidden under the Protection of Animals Act 1911. Moreover, the cruelty towards and death of the badger constitute offences under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, and further offences under this act are inevitably committed to facilitate badger-baiting (such as interfering with a sett, or the taking or the very possession of a badger for purposes other than nursing an injured animal to health). If convicted, badger-baiters may face a sentence of up to six months in jail, a fine of up to £5000, and other punitive measures, such as community service or a ban from owning dogs.
Many badgers in Europe were gassed during the 1960s and 1970s to control rabies. Until the 1980s, badger culling in the United Kingdom was undertaken in the form of gassing, to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB). Limited culling resumed in 1998 as part of a 10-year randomised trial cull which was considered by John Krebs and others to show that culling was ineffective. Some groups called for a selective cull, while others favoured a programme of vaccination, and vets support the cull on compassionate grounds as they say that the illness causes much suffering in badgers. Wales and Northern Ireland are currently (2013) conducting field trials of a badger vaccination programme. In 2012, the government authorised a limited cull led by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), however, this was later deferred with a wide range of reasons given. In August 2013, a full culling programme began where it is expected about 5,000 badgers will be killed over six weeks in West Somerset and Gloucestershire by marksmen with high-velocity rifles using a mixture of controlled shooting and free shooting (some badgers will be trapped in cages first). The cull has caused many protests with emotional, economic and scientific reasons being cited. The badger is considered an iconic species of the British countryside, it has been claimed by shadow ministers that "The government's own figures show it will cost more than it saves...", and Lord Krebs, who led the Randomised Badger Culling Trial in the 1990s, said the two pilots "will not yield any useful information".
There are several accounts of European badgers being tamed. Tame badgers can be affectionate pets, and can be trained to come to their owners when their names are called. They are easily fed, as they are not fussy eaters, and will instinctively unearth rats, moles and young rabbits without training, though they do have a weakness for pork. Although there is one record of a tame badger befriending a fox, they generally do not tolerate the presence of cats and dogs, and will chase them.
Some badger products have been used for medical purposes; badger expert Ernest Neal, quoting from an 1810 edition of The Sporting Magazine, wrote;
'The flesh, blood and grease of the badger are very useful for oils, ointments, salves and powders, for shortness of breath, the cough of the lungs, for the stone, sprained sinews, collachs etc. The skin being well dressed is very warm and comfortable for ancient people who are troubled with paralytic disorders.'—
Badger's hair is used for making sporrans and high end shaving brushes. Compared to the fur of other animals, badger's hair is ideal for shaving brushes because it retains the hot water that needs to be applied to the skin while wet shaving. Although some brushes are made from wild badger hair, most hair is sourced from China where badgers are farmed for this purpose. Sporrans are traditionally worn as part of male Scottish highland dress. They form a bag or pocket made from a pelt and a badger or other animal's mask may be used as a flap.
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