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Taxidea taxus - American Badger

Skull Pictures:    
Dorsal     Ventral
Lateral

Physical Description:

Badgers are one of the largest members of the mustelid family, and they maintain the short legs and somewhat elongated body of that group.  The group’s anal glands are also present, reportedly used in defense. Badgers weigh between 6-11 kg (13-24 lb) and measure 700-800 mm (28-31 in) in length, not including the tail.  Males are typically larger than females.  Badger fur is grayish-white and rather long.  Other telltale features include a dark nose, white dorsal stripe on the head with large black cheek spots surrounded by white, and extremely long claws on the forefeet.  The entire animal appears very low to the ground with short, powerfully-built limbs.

Cranial features show a robust skull with a broad cranium and a high sagittal crest.  The skull is 113-141 mm in length.  The dental formula is:  I 3/3, C 1/1, P 3/3, M1/2 for a total of 34 teeth.  The most posterior upper tooth (M1) and the upper carnassial (P4) are large and nearly triangular (Kurta, 1995; Long and Killingley, 1983; Neal and Cheeseman, 1996).

Distribution:

Historical Record and Current Distribution-

Badgers were recorded throughout Wisconsin in the early 1900’s.  The clearing of forest at the time of settlement is believed to have led to a population increase in Wisconsin and nearby regions of northern Illinois and Indiana.  Recent surveys also indicate that the population is currently increasing, perhaps due to an increase in grassland habitat throughout the state.

Badgers are distributed throughout the state, but seem to be concentrated more in the central, northern, and western regions.  Their abundance appears to be irregular, as they are spread out in association with their primary habitat—grasslands.   Badgers also appear to be less common in counties bordering the Great Lakes.  A 1975 Wisconsin survey indicated populations in the state appear to be stable or growing slightly (Cory, 1912; Jackson, 1961; Kurta, 1995; Rigney, 1999).

Fossil Records and Taxonomy-

Fossil evidence indicates Taxidea is related to the European species of badger, Meles, but became isolated in North America during the mid or late Pliocene epoch.  A North American fossil badger, Pliotaxidea, appears to be an ancestor or closely related link to Taxidea.  Taxidea evolved into a separate species and currently exists only in North America. There are 4 known subspecies of Taxidea taxus currently reported, all distributed in North America.  Of these, only subspecies Taxidea taxus jacksonii is found in the Great Lakes region (Long, 1973; Long and Killingley, 1983; Neal, 1986).

Ontogeny and Reproduction:

Badgers mate in August and September, but, like many mustelids, they partake in delayed implantation.  This usually takes place in February.  Mothers will line a den with grass and give birth to 2-5 slightly furred young in late March to early May.  Youngsters do not open their eyes until 1 month of age.  They are weaned in 2-3 months, and juveniles will disperse her maternal care after 5-6 months.  Some females are able to breed during their first winter, but males do not usually breed until their second year.

Badgers are mostly solitary, as males and females seem to avoid each other except during mating.  Males typically have larger home ranges than females, yet both occupy smaller areas in winter.  Badgers have been known to live in captivity for up to 26 years, but the average life span in the wild is 4-5 years, with some surviving up to 14 years (Kurta, 1995; Messick and Hornocker, 1981).

Ecology and Behavior:

As aforementioned, badgers prefer grassland habitats, but may also be found in abandoned fields, pastures, and, rarely, woodlands.  Although primarily nocturnal, they are sometimes active during the daytime hours.  Badgers are carnivorous and typically feed on fossorial rodents, most notably the plains pocket gopher, thirteen-lined ground squirrel, and woodchuck.  Acute senses of smell and hearing help them to locate prey in their burrows.  The outstanding digging ability of badgers is used to excavate burrows and dig out prey, often making trial digs to help locate animals.  Badgers are opportunistic feeders, however, and will readily supplement their diet with voles, mice, birds, bird eggs, insects, grubs, and caterpillars.  They have also been shown to change their diet, both seasonally and yearly.

In winter, badgers have the ability to lower their body temperature from the normal 38 degrees Celsius to 29 degrees Celsius for short periods of time.  In Wyoming, winter burrow temperatures were shown to remain higher than outside temperatures.  These features, coupled with about a 10% loss in body fat during the winter months, allow a badger to reduce the need to forage during cold temperatures.

Badgers have few natural enemies other than humans.  Low to the ground and fiercely defensive, very few animals pose any real threat to the badger.  In fact, badgers have been known to successfully fend off a pack of dogs (Harlow, 1981; Jackson, 1961; Kurta, 1995; Messick and Hornocker, 1981; Neal, 1986).

Remarks:

The state of Wisconsin and the badger have a long history of association.  Early miners, who stayed in small caves and dugouts (similar to badger dens) during cold winter months gained the nickname “badgers”.  Since that time, Wisconsin became known as the badger state, and relegated upon the badger the title of Wisconsin’s state animal.  One of the state’s universities, the University of Wisconsin—Madison, took on the badger as its official mascot, in part due to the animal’s fierce and powerful nature.

Economically, badgers once provided fur for hats and coats and their hair has historically been used in shaving brushes.  As predators, badgers are important in reducing populations of rodents which may damage crops or be considered pests.  On the other hand, badger burrows may present a hazard to cattle and horses.  The badger can host a variety of internal parasites and is susceptible to rabies and tularemia; however, trapping, hunting, and automobiles cause the majority of badger mortalities in Wisconsin, They have virtually no natural predators, as few wild animals will attack a badger  (Jackson, 1961; Long and Killingley, 1983; Long, 1992; Nowak, 1999).

Literature Cited:

Cory, C. B.  1912.  Mammals of Illinois and Wisconsin.  Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, USA.

Harlow, H. J.  1981.  Torpor and other physiological adaptations of the badger (Taxidea taxus) to cold environments.  Physiological Zoology  54:267-275.

Jackson, H. H. T.  1961.  Mammals of Wisconsin.  The University of Wisconsin Press  Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

Kurta, A.    1995.  Mammals of the Great Lakes region.  The University of Michigan Press  Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.

Long, C. A., and C. A. Killingley.  1983.  The badgers of the world.  Charles C Thomas, Springfield, Illinois, USA.

Long, C. A.  1973.  Taxidea taxus.  Mammalian Species  26:1-4.

_____.  1992.  Status and economic importance of the North American badger, Taxidea taxus (Schreber).  Small Carnivore Conservation  7:4-7.

Messick, J. P., and M. G. Hornocker.  1981.  Ecology of the badger in southwestern Idaho.  Wildlife Monographs  76:1-53.

Neal, E.  1986.  The natural history of badgers.  Facts on File Publications.  New York, New York, USA.

Neal, E. and C. Cheeseman.  1996.  Badgers.  T & AD Poyser Ltd.  London, Great Britain.

Nowak, R.  1999.  Walker’s mammals of the world.  John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Rigney, H.  1999.  Still at home in the badger state.  Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine December 1999.  <http://www.wnmag.com/stories/1999/dec99/badgers.htm> Accessed 30 Oct 2003.

Reference written by Brad Bulin, Biology 378 student.  Edited by Christopher Yahnke.
Page last updated 4-29-04. 

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