Photo: Mark Taylor, Nature Picture Library
Photo: Mark Taylor, Nature Picture Library

Eurasian Badgers: Known for Digging Dirt, and Each Other

It’s bad enough that they endlessly tunnel under lawns—but badgers also disrupt with their noisy, passionate encounters.

“Sex-mad,” roared the headline in the U.K.’s Daily Mail. The news report quoted Sheffield, England, homeowners’ complaints that their “neighbours from hell” were having “noisy late-night passionate encounters outside.”

Get a room, Meles meles! Then again, the Eurasian badger’s homemaking may be as disruptive as its lovemaking: It can ruin lawns and undermine buildings as it digs setts, the chamber-and-tunnel systems it calls home.

Who knows whether badgers’ favorite pastime is digging or breeding. Clans move tons of earth to create labyrinthine setts; some incorporate tunnels that their fore-badgers dug centuries ago. They pile up leafy bedding (which they regularly change) in chambers used for indoor breeding. During sex, females may yelp, males may emit a cross between a whinny and a purr—and the sound carries. When badgers dug a love nest under a Derbyshire church, “there was much concern over the pungent odours and strange noises that emanated during evensong,” according to the 1996 book Badgers.

Flexible as to where they have sex, badgers are also biologically blessed as to when. A female can maintain embryos “in a sort of suspended animation” and delay their implantation in her uterus for months, says wildlife biologist Dez Delahay of the University of Exeter. As a result, badgers can breed all year and still time their babies’ birth to a season when conditions most favor their survival. Only a few mammal species have that reproductive advantage, so Meles meles really does have something to purr about.