Thursday, September 19, 2013

European Badger

Every year on September 19th, we learn about a Badger. We've talked about the American Badger, Honey Badger, and Japanese Badger-- so now comes time for the iconic European Badger.

Meles meles
This critter lives everywhere in Europe. Its range covers nearly the entire continent, plus parts of the Middle East as well. With a span that large it's no wonder that there are eight different subspecies, the most populous of those being the creatively named "Common Badger," Meles meles meles.

European Badgers can measure up to 3ft in length and weigh between 20 and 35lbs, depending on the time of year (they bulk up in the fall.) They have those distinctive white faces with black lines running from ear to mouth.

This Badger species is one of the least carnivorous of all the members of the Carnivora Order. They will track down rabbits and other prey using their fantastic sense of smell, but they also eat a huge amount of vegetation as well, including fruits, fungi, acorns, and grasses.

European Badgers also have the distinction of being the most social Badgers. Where their relatives tend to be solitary, these guys will live in small groups that number up to ten adults. Only the dominant females will breed each year and produce cubs, and if a subordinate female also breeds, her offspring might be killed by the more senior members of the group.

These Badger groups occupy a territory, which is passed down from generation to generation. Because of their long-term residencies, the dens that European Badgers build can be very, very complex. Some have literally dozens of different entrances, and passages can be hundreds of feet long. Some Badgers (depending on location) will go into torpor during the winter, and will cover up their den entrances while they sleep. In warmer locations, the Badgers may not go inactive during winter at all.

European Badgers have a long relationship with humans. They have been hunted for sport for hundreds of years, and their hair is popular for use in shaving brushes. The Badgers are also, unfortunately, carriers of rabies and Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB). Various culls have taken place during the last few decades in order to keep bTB from spreading, including a program start started in August 2013. There is much debate on whether the culls are necessary, and some locations are trying out vaccination programs to see if they are more effective.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Europe
Size : Length up to 35in (90cm), Weight up to 35lbs (16kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Mustelidae -- Genus : Meles -- Species : M. meles
Image : Mark Robinson Andy Mabbett

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