What is an American badger?
The honey badger might get the spotlight for its famously grumpy attitude, but the American badger can be just as ornery. These members of the skunk and weasel family are widespread, ranging from British Columbia throughout western Canada and the U.S. to southern Mexico.
They’re squat and sturdy, with short legs, stumpy tails, and flat bodies. Their triangular faces—ideal for digging and “nosing” into tight spaces—are dark in color, with white stripes down their nose and over their eyes.
Like all badgers, this species is fierce and built for defense, with thick, loose fur and skin and muscular necks that makes them harder to catch. When threatened, American badgers vocalize by hissing and growling, and will also emit a musky odor—though it’s not quite as off-putting as that of their cousin, the skunk.
Long, curved front claws on webbed front feet and shovel-like back claws help the mammals dig into burrows for prey, and strong jaws and sharp teeth serve to rip an animal apart.
Badgers are carnivores, chowing down on insects, prairie dogs, mice, ground-dwelling birds, and groundhogs. Superb diggers, these animals will sometimes will cache food for later use (and in one remarkable case, even an entire cow).
Their fluffy faces and waddle-walk may seem pretty cute, but badgers keep some very tough company. In some parts of the U.S., they’ve have been known to hunt alongside coyotes. In these short-term alliances, the badger takes advantage of prey driven underground by the coyote, while the coyote benefits from burrowing prey, like ground squirrels, chased above ground by the badger. This is an example of mutualism, in which animals of different species work together to meet their individual needs.
These nocturnal predators prefer open areas, and sleep in dens during the day. While they’re active all year, American badgers will sleep for several days, or even weeks, in deep winter.
The species is solitary until mating season, which is late summer to early autumn. Females are sexually mature as young as four months old, but males don’t mature until their second year. Badger males and females are promiscuous, meaning both have multiple partners and don’t form pair bonds. Their average life-span in the wild is four to five years, and the longevity record for a wild American badger is 14 years.
Females make a special grass-lined natal den, where they give birth to between one to five cubs. Born helpless, cubs don’t even open their eyes until about a month old. Cubs stay with mom, in and out of the den, until they’re five or six months old.
American badgers are generally not under threat, but their populations are decreasing, primarily due to habitat loss caused by urban development and agriculture. The poisoning and shooting of prairie dogs, which are the badgers’ primary source of food, is also detrimental.