Japanese badgers (Meles anakuma) are endemic to Japan, inhabiting Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Shodoshima, Japan.
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native )
Other Geographic Terms: island endemic
Japanese badgers are dark brown with a white face and a chocolate-brown eye stripe on their face that runs from the snout to the ear. In some specimens the stripe is reduced to a ring around the eye giving the animal a panda-like appearance. Males and females are indistinguishable by fur color. Vibrissae are present on the elongated snout and act as a tactile sense organ. Their ears are small and lie close to the side of the head. Feet are broad and have five digits with non-retractable claws. Japanese badgers are stocky with short robust limbs and a short tail.
On average, Japanese badgers are smaller than Eurasian badgers. Skull size and sexual dimorphism is less pronounced than in Eurasian badgers. Average body weight during spring (April to July) exhibits a great deal of variation from one location to the next. In Yamaguchi, average spring body weight is 5.7±0.4 kg for males and 4.5±0.8 kg for females, whereas in Tokyo, average spring body weight is 7.7±1.3 kg in males and 5.4±0.8 kg in females in Tokyo. Yearling females weigh 3.6±0.6 kg, while yearling males weigh 4.2±0.6 kg. Total body length in adults (i.e., greater than 2 years old) is 78.7±4.9 cm in males and 72.0±2.3 cm in females.
Range mass: 3.9 to 11.0 kg.
Average mass: 5.1 kg.
Range length: 70 to 79 cm.
Average length: 75 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Meles anakuma is a terrestrial mammal that inhabits deciduous woods, mixed woods, copses. THis species is occasionally sighted in suburban and agricultural areas as well. Setts, or its den, are constructed in covered areas to allow it to emerge and retreat inconspicuously. Hills and slopes facilitate the removal of soil and increase drainage, making them a preferred location for sett construction. Meles anakuma can be found from sea level to 1700 m in elevation throughout its geographic range.
Range elevation: 0 to 1,700 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest
Other Habitat Features: suburban ; agricultural
Habitat and Ecology
Body size, Life cycle and reproduction
One of differeces between Japanese badgers to European species is body size. In total body length in adults (over 2 years old), 78.7±4.9 cm in males and 72.0±2.3 cm in females (Tokyo Kaneko et al. 1996) are far shorter than M. meles, more smaller badgers were recorded in south evergreen forest population (66.8±2.7 cm in males and 60.4±2.4 cm in females, Yamaguch, Tanaka 2002). Abramov (2005) reported Japanese badgers’ downsizing of the skull accompanied by a decrease of sexual size dimorphism (except in canine size) in comparison to the continental species.
Body weight (April-July period) has much variation between individuals as well as seasons, 7.7±1.3 kg in males and 5.4±0.8 kg in females in Tokyo (Kaneko and Maruyama 2002), 5.7±0.4 kg in males and 4.4±0.6 kg in females in Yamaguchi (Tanaka 2002).
Female’s parturition is from 2 years of age and on mid-April in Tokyo, mid-March to April in Yamaguchi, average litter size of 2.5±1.2 cubs (1-4 cubs in range, Kaneko 2001) and 2.3 cubs in Yamaguchi (Tanaka 2002). Copulation is from April, just after parturition in April and blastocysts delayed implant until February (Kaneko 2001). Tanaka (2002) reported badgers are nocturnal, as well as their activity almost ceased in January and February, badgers remained in their setts most of the time with about 3 degree lower body temperature, is likely hibernation.
Food, home range and cover
Japanese badgers feed on earthworms from spring and autumn in sub-alpine zone (Yamamoto 1991, 1995), ever green forest (Tanaka 2002) and Tokyo suburb (Hinode-town, Kaneko 2001; Kaneko et al. 2006). Badgers are also known to eat other items with worms; berries and beetles in summer in all three habitats and switched worms to persimmon (tree fruit) in autumn Tokyo suburb. Nowadays in Japan, old and new land use types are mixed because of rapid growth and development by building new residential area.
Unlike European badgers, there are no male-female bond for rearing cubs by direct observation in Tokyo suburb (Ito 1992) as well as both female and male adult badger home ranges were solitary in Yamaguchi (Tanaka 2001). It seemed that male badgers is solitary but construct a temporary bond with one or several females only in mating season. In mating season in Tokyo suburb (Kaneko et al. in prep)and Yamaguchi (Tanaka et al. 2002), male badgers extend their range overlapped with 2-3 females. Tanaka suggest intra-sexual territoriality in Yamaguchi population, may differ from large social group or pair in European badgers. Scent marking in Japanese badgers in Tokyo suburb (Kaneko in prep.), the border latrines may be effective sources of information about badger presence and oestrus status in low density populations because there are few opportunities for badgers to encounter each other and no badgers met at latrines.
The diet of the Japanese badger consists of insects, earthworms, and fruit. They are opportunistic foragers, rather than hunters. Japanese badgers rely heavily on their sense of smell to guide them to small prey. They also consume carrion when available.
Animal Foods: carrion ; insects; terrestrial worms
Plant Foods: fruit
Primary Diet: carnivore (Insectivore , Vermivore)
By digging burrows, Meles anakuma helps aerate soil and increase water penetration. It feeds on earthworms, berries, and insects, and may help control insect pest species as well as disperse seeds throughout its geographic range. Badgers are an important prey item for wolves, feral dogs, and humans. There is no information available concerning parasites specific to this species.
Ecosystem Impact: soil aeration
Known predators of Meles anakuma include wolves, foxes, feral dogs, and humans. Similar to other mammalian species, M. anakuma uses piloerection in an attempt to deter potential predators. Its fossorial and group lifestyle may help it avoid predators.
- foxes (Canidae)
- humans (Homo sapiens)
- dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)
- wolves (Canis lupus)
Life History and Behavior
Meles anakuma eyes are unusually small for a nocturnal animal, suggesting that sight is less important than its other senses. Tapetum lucidum and a high number rod photo-receptors help M. anakuma see in the dark. Facial stripes are thought to accentuate any aggressive signals towards conspecifics.
Japanese badgers have an extremely well developed sense of smell. Secretions from the sub-caudal gland are used by to 'mark' territorial boundaries. The dominant member of each social group often scent marks each member of their group, which helps conspecifics identify dominant individuals as well as group membership. Evidence suggests urine may also be used as a scent marker.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Little information is available concerning the lifespan of Meles anakuma. Research suggests an average lifespan of 10 years for wild individuals, but life expectancy can vary greatly depending on environment. The oldest known captive individual lived to be 19.5 years old, however, average lifespan in captivity is 13 years.
Status: captivity: 19.5 (high) years.
Status: wild: 10 years.
Status: captivity: 13 years.
Japanese badgers are polygynandrous. Males and females copulate with multiple mates throughout the year. Males signal interest to females by raising their tails into a vertical position while emitting a deep whinny purr. Prior to mating, violent interactions may occur and can include musk emission.
Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)
Reproduction in Japanese badgers is similar to that of Eurasian badgers. Litters typically consist of 1 to 4 young, but sometimes as many as 6. Birth mass ranges from 75 to 90 g, with an average of 80 g. On average, weaning is complete by 5 weeks after birth, with most individuals weaned by 4 to 6 weeks of age. Male offspring remain with their mother for up to 26 months, whereas female offspring share a sett with the mother for only 14 months. On average, females reach sexual maturity at 24 months, while males typically reach sexual maturity at 15 months.
Unlike Eurasian badgers, Japanese badgers do not form male-female bonds for rearing cubs. During mating season, males expand their home range to overlap with those of 2 to 3 females. Male badgers are solitary most of the year, but form temporary bonds with one or several females during breeding season. Mating and fertilization can occur at any time throughout the year, but cubs are only born during spring. This is possibly due to delayed implantation, a condition in which a fertilized egg reaches the uterus but delays implantation in the uterine lining. Birthing takes place in underground dens during spring (April to June).
Breeding interval: Japanese badgers give birth once a year in spring.
Breeding season: Members of this species may breed at any time of the year, but young are born in the spring.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 6.
Average number of offspring: 3.
Average gestation period: 49 days.
Range weaning age: 4 to 6 months.
Average time to independence: 15 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 to 3 years.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 12 to 16 weeks.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous ; delayed implantation
On average, young Japanese badgers are weaned by 5 weeks after birth, with most individuals weaned between 4 and 6 weeks of age. Male offspring remain with their mother for up to 26 months, whereas female offspring share a sett with the mother for only 14 months. On average, females reach sexual maturity at 24 months, while males typically reach sexual maturity at 15 months. There is no information available regarding paternal care in this species.
Parental Investment: female parental care ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Meles anakuma
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.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Meles anakuma
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
Japanese badgers are a species of least concern on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species. Despite this, the population and distribution of Japanese badgers has been in decline over the last 30 years. Habitat loss due to development and agriculture is its biggest threat. Many badgers are killed due to road and rail traffic; tunnels and other efforts have been made in order to deter animals from crossing major roads. In addition, Northern raccoon pose a major threat to their persistence as well. Japanese badgers are considered game in Japan, but hunting has declined since the 1970s. Studies estimate there are as many as 4 adults/km² in Tokyo suburbs.
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
It is classified as a "game species" in Japan, although numbers hunted each year have been declining from 7,000 individuals per year in the 1970s to less than 2,000 individuals in late 1980s, though this might be caused by a loss of interest in badgers as game animals (Y. Kaneko pers. comm. 2006). Although present scientific surveys are not sufficient to define population trends or density, it was estimated as 4 adults/km² in Tokyo suburb from seven years capture-recapture result.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Meles anakuma have been known to cause minor damage to lawns and crops while foraging for food.
Negative Impacts: crop pest
There are no known adverse effects of Meles anakuma on humans.
The Japanese badger (Meles anakuma) is a species of carnivoran of the family Mustelidae, the weasels and their kin. It is endemic to Japan, where it is found on Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Shodoshima. It shares the genus Meles with the Asian and European badgers.
Japanese badgers are smaller (average length 79 cm (31 in) in males, 72 cm (28 in) in females) and less sexually dimorphic (except in the size of the canine teeth) than their European counterparts. Tail length is between 14 and 20 cm (5.5 and 7.9 in). Adults usually weigh from 4 to 8 kg (8.8 to 17.6 lb). The torso is blunt and limbs are short. The front feet are equipped with powerful digging claws. The claws on hind feet are smaller. The upper coat has long gray-brown hair. Ventral hair is short and black. The face has characteristic black-white stripes that are not as distinct as in the European badger. The dark color is concentrated around the eyes. The skull is smaller than in the European badger.
The absence of badgers from Hokkaido, and the presence of related M. leucurus in Korea, suggest that the ancestral badgers reached Japan from the southwest via Korea. Genetic studies indicate that there are substantial differences between Japanese and Asian badgers, which were formerly considered conspecific, and that the Japanese badgers are genetically more homogenous.
Japanese badgers are nocturnal and hibernate during the coldest months of the year. Beginning at 2 years of age, females mate and give birth to litters of two or three cubs in the spring (March-April). They mate again shortly afterwards, but delay implantation until the following February. Japanese badgers are more solitary than European badgers; they do not aggregate into social clans, and mates do not form pair bonds. During mating season, the range of a male badger overlaps with those of 2 to 3 females.
Japanese badgers are found in a variety of woodland and forest habitats.
Although they remain common, their range has shrunk recently. They presently range over about 29 per cent of the country, an area that has shrunk 7 per cent over the last 25 years. Increased land development and agriculture, as well as competition from introduced raccoons are threats. Hunting is legal but has declined sharply since the 1970s.
- Mujina, a badger creature from Japanese folklore
- Kaneko, Y. & Sasaki, H. (2008). "Meles anakuma". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 17 August 2009.
- Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 611. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.