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Badgers, occasionally referred to as brocks, are short-legged, heavy-set carnivore in the weasel family, Mustelidae. There are some eight species of badger, in three subfamilies (see links in species list below): Melinae (badgers of Europe and Asia), Mellivorinae (the Ratel or honey badger), and Taxideinae (the American badger). The Asiatic stink badgers of the genus Mydaus were formerly included in the Melinae and Mustelidae, but recent genetic evidence indicates that these are actually closer relatives of the skunks, now often put with them in the separate family Mephitidae.

Badgers include the species in the genera Meles, Arctonyx, Taxidea and Mellivora species. Their lower jaw is articulated to the upper by means of a transverse condyle firmly locked into a long cavity of the cranium, so that dislocation of the jaw is all but impossible. This enables the badger to maintain its hold with the utmost tenacity, but limits its jaw movement to hingeing open and shut, or sliding from side to side without the twisting movement possible for the jaws of most mammals.

Etymology

The word badger originally applied to the European Badger (Meles meles). Its derivation is uncertain. It possibly comes from the French word blaireau: "corn-hoarder", or from the French word bêcheur (digger), introduced during William the Conqueror's reign. The Oxford English Dictionary, however, states that the most likely derivation is from badge + -ard, referring to the white mark borne like a badge on its forehead.

The less common name brock (Old English: brocc), (Scots: brock) is a Celtic loanword (cf. Gaelic broc and Welsh broch, from Proto-Celtic *brokko) meaning grey. The Proto-Germanic term was *þahsu- (cf. German Dachs, Dutch das, Norwegian svin-toks; Early Modern English: dasse), probably from the PIE root *tek'- "to construct," so that the badger would have been named after its digging of setts (tunnels).

A male badger is a boar, a female 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 clans. Badger dens are called setts.

Classification

American badger.
The following list shows where the various badger species are placed in the Mustelidae classification.

Behavior

The behavior of badgers differs by family, but all shelter underground, living in burrows called setts which may be very extensive. Some are solitary, moving from home to home, while others are known to form clans. Clan size is variable from 2 to 15. Badgers can be fierce animals and will protect themselves and their young at all costs. Badgers are capable of fighting off much larger animals such as wolves, coyotes and bears. Badgers can run or gallop at up to for short periods of time.

North American Badgers (Taxidea taxus) and Coyotes (Canis latrans) have been seen hunting together, in a cooperative fashion.

Diet

American Badgers are fossorial carnivores. Unlike many carnivores that stalk their prey in open country, badgers catch most of their food by digging. They can tunnel after ground-dwelling rodents with amazing speed. They have been known to cache food.

The diet of the Eurasian badger consists largely of earthworms, insects, and grubs. They also eat small mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds as well as cereals, roots and fruit.

The honey badger of Africa consumes honey, porcupines and even venomous snakes (such as the puff adder). They will climb trees to gain access to honey from bees' nests.

In North America, coyotes sometimes eat badgers and vice versa, but the majority of their interactions seem to be mutual or neutral.

Badgers have been known to become intoxicated with alcohol after eating rotting fruit.

Badgers and humans

Eurasian badger.


Hunting badgers is common in many countries. Manipulating the badger population is prohibited in many European countries as badgers are listed in the Berne Convention, but they are not otherwise the subject of any international treaty or legislation.

The blood sport of badger-baiting was outlawed in the United Kingdommarker by the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835 as well as the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 which makes it a serious offence to kill, injure or take a badger, or to damage or interfere with a sett unless a licence is obtained from a statutory authority. An exemption that allowed fox hunters to loosely block setts to prevent chased foxes escaping into them was brought to an end with the passage of the Hunting Act 2004.

Many badgers in Europe were gassed during the 1960s and 1970s to control rabies. Until the 1980s, gassing was also practised in the UKmarker to control the spread of bovine TB.

A Scandinavian custom is to put eggshells or styrofoam in one's boots when walking through badger territory, as badgers are believed to bite down until they can hear a crunch. The dachshund dog breed has a history with badgers; "dachs" is the German word for badger, and dachshunds were originally bred to be badger hounds.

As food

Although rarely eaten today in the United States or the United Kingdom, badger was once one of the main meat sources in the diets of Native Americans and white colonists. Badgers were also eaten in Britain during World War II and the 1950s.

In Russiamarker, the consumption of badger meat is still widespread. Badger, along with dog and pork, shish kebabs are cited as a major source of trichinellosis outbreaks in the Altai regionmarker of Russia. Consumption of badger meat also occurs in other European countries such as Croatiamarker, where it is used in a variation of the traditional dish of goulash. In contrast to Russia, there are no reports of trichinellosis related to the consumption of badger meat. This is credited to adequate preparation of the meat and good thermal processing of it.

In France, badger meat is used in the preparation of several dishes, such as Blarieur au sang and it is a relatively common ingredient in countryside cuisine. Badger meat was eaten in some parts of Spain until recently as well.

Badger remains a source of food in Chinamarker, and the meat is freely available in market places. Other Asian countries also have traditions of consuming badger meat. In Japan, it is mentioned in folktales where it is regarded as a food for the humble.

Commercial use

Today badgers are commercially raised for their hair, which is harvested to make shaving brushes. Because badgers are a protected species in North America and most of Europe, virtually all commercial badger hair comes from mainland China, which supplies knots of hair in three grades to brush makers in both China and Europe. In rural Northern China, badgers multiply to the point of becoming a crop nuisance, and village cooperatives are licensed by the national government to hunt badgers and process their hair. The hair is also used for paint brushes, and was used as a trim on Native American garments. It has been used in some instances as doll hair.

In popular culture



Miscellany



Notes

  1. BBC Natural World, 2008, Badgers: Secrets of the Sett
  2. Online at http://dictionary.oed.com (subscription required).
  3. http://www.hintsandthings.co.uk/kennel/collectives.htm
  4. Cahalane VH (1950) Badger-coyote "partnerships." Journal of Mammalogy 31: 354-355
  5. Kiliaan HPL, Mamo C, Paquet PC (1991) A Coyote, Canis latrans, and Badger, Taxidea taxus, interaction near Cypress Hills Provincial Park, Alberta. Canadian Field-Naturalist 105: 122-12
  6. http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5i9a013U8U1EbEBcrlAf0115R6doQ
  7. Parts of it online at http://www.gastronomydomine.com/2006/06/badger-stew.html.
  8. Online at http://www.jstor.org/pss/536252 (subscription required).


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