Summit Outside: Badgers capture the imagination
The character of Mr. Badger in the famous children’s book “Wind in the Willows” is a gruff, solitary figure who “simply hates society,” a wise hermit, a good leader and gentleman embodying common sense. He is also brave and a skilled fighter, and helps clear the Wild Wooders from Toad Hall.
There are quite a few other stories featuring badgers including “The Tale of Mr. Tod,” and “The Once and Future King.” In the Harry Potter books, the official mascot of the Hogwarts house of Hufflepuff is the badger and it is depicted in coat of arms. The badger is both the state animal of Wisconsin and the mascot of the University of Wisconsin’s athletic teams. What is it about the badger that captures the imagination?
Badgers are members of the weasel family and can be fierce, aggressive animals. They are “brave and skilled fighters” and are capable of fighting off much larger animals such as wolves and bears with their powerful legs, large claws, partially webbed toes, and sharp teeth. They have very good hearing and an acute sense of smell. They also have a musk gland on their underside that produces a pungent odor, which is used for defense.
Their thick fur is almost immune to rattle snake bite. Their body is designed for burrowing and they can dig a hole to safety in less than a minute. Their powerfully built forelimbs allow them to tunnel rapidly through the soil, and through other harder substances as well. There are stories of badgers emerging from holes they have excavated through blacktopped pavement and even two-inch-thick concrete.
Mr. Badger is depicted as a hermit, and it is true that badgers are solitary animals, but some do form small clans.
Badgers are mainly active at night, and tend to be inactive during the winter months. They are not true hibernators in the winter, but go into torpor where their body temperatures fall and the heart beats at about half the normal rate. They emerge from their dens on warm days in the winter. A typical badger den may be as far as 10 feet below the surface, contain about 33 feet of tunnels, and have a special larger chamber for sleeping.
Badgers use multiple burrows within their home range, and they may use the same burrow only once a month. They may dig a new burrow each day, especially in the summer and they may have up to 50 within their territory.
During the winter they may use only one or two burrows. Badgers due not migrate but they stay within their home range, which is quite large.
Badger dens are called setts. A male badger is a boar, a female is a sow and a young badger is a cub. A collective name suggested for a group of badgers is a cete, but badger colonies are more often called clan.
They are relatively large animals ranging from 11 to 22 lbs and can reach 2-3 feet in length.
The face of the badger is quite distinct with the throat and chin whitish, and the face has black patches. A white dorsal stripe extends back over the head from the nose and in northern populations this stripe ends near the shoulders.
There is no pair bonding observed between boars and sows. A boar will mate with females whose territories overlap with his. Female badgers prepare a grass-lined den and give birth in the spring to an average litter of three cubs. They are born blind and helpless with a thin coat of fur. The young are nursed by their mother until they are 2- to 3-months-old. Badgers lifespan in the wild has been estimated to be anywhere from 5-14 years.
Badgers help to control rodent populations, kill venomous snakes and eat insects and carrion. Badgers and coyotes are sometimes seen hunting at the same time in an apparently cooperative manner. Badgers can readily dig rodents out of burrows but cannot run fast so the coyotes run rodents down while above ground. When badgers and coyotes hunt in the same area at the same time, they are more efficient at capturing rodents. Badgers and coyotes have even been seen to engage in play behavior.
We have badgers here in Summit County. I once saw four by the side of Blue Lakes Road near the dam.
Breckenridge resident Dr. Joanne Stolen is a former professor of
microbiology from Rutgers now teaching classes at CMC. Her scientific interests are in emerging infectious diseases and environmental pollution.
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