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American Badger

Photo by Stan Tekiela

by Stan Tekiela
© NatureSmart

March 15, 2024

It’s funny, I believe the average person knows more about the Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis), a critter of Africa and Southwest Asia than they do about the badger in our own backyard, the American Badger (Taxidea taxus). Social media has a lot to do with the Honey Badger phenomena and widespread knowledge that Honey Badgers just don’t care. If you don’t understand this last reference you will need to look it up.

All of this was swirling through my head recently while photographing a beautiful adult male American Badger. Although the American Badger looks similar to the European Badger, and the Honey Badger, it is not closely related to either one. American Badger is found in open grasslands of the western states and the open pine forests of the Midwest and mid-Atlantic states.

The badger is a member of the Mustelidae family, which means they are in the same family as mink, weasel, otter and wolverine. These are a diverse group of carnivorous mammals that have elongated bodies, short legs, short round ears and thick fur. Apart from the Sea Otter, all of these mustelids have anal scent glands that produce a strong musky smell that they use in marking territories, attracting mates and more.

Some of the more notable characteristics of the American Badger is its stocky body with very short and powerful legs. They have huge sharp claws on the front feet that measure upwards of two inches long. They use these claws to dig in the ground which also explains why they are often found in areas with sandy soils.

Until you get up close to these animals it is hard to judge their size. Measuring nearly 3 feet from nose to tail, the male badgers are slightly larger than females. Larger males are fairly common in the world of mammals, not so much in the avian world. I think it’s their short legs which gives the illusion of being smaller than they really are.

Badgers make a living by eating smaller animals that also live underground, such as Pocket Gophers, Ground Squirrels, Prairie Dogs, mice and voles. They usually dig to pursue their prey, often taking upwards of an hour to dig enough to trap their prey in a dead-end tunnel. A badger’s over all body size and shape makes them exceptional digging machines.

Once while I was out photographing the endangered Black-footed Ferrit in South Dakota, I came across a badger that was in the process of digging into a Prairie Dog tunnel. It was about 2 in the morning, and I had to use my flashlight to illuminate the larger tunnel that the badger had dug. About 5 feet down was the badger who just turned to look at me, then growled and snarled at me then turned and kept on digging. It took only another minute or so until it had dug enough to cover himself and disappear into the ground in pursuit of its Prairie Dog prey.

Another time I was very fortunate to witness an American Badger teaming up with a Coyote to hunt in tandem. The two hunted a prairie dog town like old and familiar friends who knew each other so well that they didn’t have to say anything to each other. The coyote would sniff each entrance hole to the prairie dog burrow and the badger would wait. They would switch off back and forth checking each hole until they decided which burrow they would excavate. The badger would quickly start digging and the coyote would wait at the nearby emergency exit hole for the prairie dogs to come out.

In one study of the amazing pairing of predators, it was found that most pairings were one to one, while 9 percent had two coyotes to one badger and 1 percent had three coyotes to one badger. The study also found that the benefits to the coyote were a 33 percent increased catch rate of prey. The study didn’t mention any increase benefit to the badger.

Another study showed that the sight of the coyote sent ground squirrels into their burrow and the badger could see which hole they went into making it easier to dig them out. This would give the badger a distinct advantage by helping to corner the prey.

I admit I don’t come across a lot of badgers in my travels so when I do, I usually spend extra time just to study and capture as many images and video as possible of this amazing hometown critter. Until next time…

Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels extensively to study and capture images of wildlife. He can be followed on www.instagram.com and www.facebook.com. He can be contacted vis his web page at www.naturesmart.com.


The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.

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