Eurasian Badger Facts

Scientific Name: Meles meles

European badger

Cordier Sylvain / Getty Images

The Eurasian badger or European badger (Meles meles) is a social, omnivorous mammal that resides in woodlands, pastures, suburbs, and urban parks throughout most of Europe and Asia. In Europe, the badgers are also known by several common names including brock, pate, grey, and bawson.

Fast Facts: Eurasian Badger

  • Scientific Name: Meles meles
  • Common Name(s): Eurasian badger, European badger, Asian badger. In Europe: brock, pate, grey, and bawson
  • Basic Animal Group: Mammal  
  • Size: 22–35 inches long
  • Weight: Females weigh between 14.5–30 pounds, males are 20–36 pounds
  • Lifespan: 6 years
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Habitat: Europe and Asia
  • Population: Worldwide unknown; range size varies
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern; considered Endangered in Albania

Description

Eurasian badgers are powerfully built mammals that have a short, fat body and short, sturdy legs well suited for digging. The bottoms of their feet are naked and they have strong claws that are elongated with a sharp end honed for excavation. They have small eyes, small ears, and a long head. Their skulls are heavy and elongated and they have oval braincases. Their fur is grayish and they have black faces with white stripes on the top and sides of their face and neck.

Badgers range in body length from about 22–35 inches, with a tail extending another 4.5 to 20 inches. Females weigh between 14.5–30 pounds, while males weigh from 20–36 pounds.

European Badger (Meles meles)
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Species

Once thought to be a single species, some researchers split them into subspecies which are similar in appearance and behavior but have different ranges.

  • Common badger (Meles meles meles)
  • Cretan badger (Meles meles arcalus)
  • Trans Caucasian badger (Meles meles canascens)
  • Kizlyar badger (Meles meles heptneri)
  • Iberian badger (Meles meles marianensis)
  • Norwegian badger (Meles meles milleri)
  • Rhodes badger (Meles meles rhodius)
  • Fergana badger (Meles meles severzovi)

Habitat

European badgers are found throughout the British Isles, Europe, and Scandinavia. Their range extends westward to the Volga River. West of the Volga River, Asian badgers are common. They are most often studied as a group and referred to in the scholarly press simply as Eurasian badgers.

Eurasian badgers prefer deciduous woods with clearings or open pastureland with small patches of wood. They are also found in a wide variety of temperate ecosystems, mixed and coniferous woodlands, scrub, suburban areas, and urban parks. Subspecies are found in mountains, plains, and even semi-deserts. Territory ranges vary depending on food availability and so reliable population estimates are not currently available.

Diet

Eurasian badgers are omnivores. They are opportunistic foragers that consume fruit, nuts, bulbs, tubers, acorns and cereal crops, as well as invertebrates such as earthworms, insects, snails, and slugs. They also eat small mammals such as rats, voles, shrews, moles, mice, and rabbits. When available, they will also feed on small reptiles and amphibians such as frogs, snakes, newts, and lizards.

The badgers forage alone even when involved in a social group: Eurasian badgers live in territorial, mixed-sex social colonies each sharing a communal burrow. The animals are nocturnal and spend much of the daylight hours hidden away in their setts.

Behavior

Eurasian badgers are social animals that live in colonies of six to 20 individuals made up of multiple males, breeding and non-breeding females, and cubs. The groups create and reside in a network of underground tunnels known as a sett or den. Some setts are large enough to house more than a dozen badgers and can have tunnels that are as much as 1,000 feet long with numerous openings to the surface. Badgers excavate their setts in well-drained soils that are easy to dig in. The tunnels are 2–6 feet beneath the surface of the ground and the badgers often construct large chambers where they sleep or care for their young.

When digging tunnels, badgers create large mounds outside the entryway. By placing entrances on slopes, the badgers can push the debris down the hill and away from the opening. They do the same when cleaning out their sett, pushing bedding material and other waste out and away from the opening. Groups of badgers are known as colonies and each colony may construct and use several different setts throughout their territory.

The setts they use depend on the distribution of food resources within their territory as well as whether or not it is breeding season and young are to be raised in the sett. Setts or sections of setts not used by badgers are sometimes occupied by other animals such as foxes or rabbits.

Like bears, badgers experience winter sleep during which time they become less active but their body temperature does not drop as it does in full hibernation. In late summer, badgers begin to gain the weight they will need to power themselves through their winter sleep period.

Reproduction

Eurasian badgers are polygynous, meaning males mate with multiple females but females only mate with one male. Within social groups, however, only the dominant male and female mate. Dominant females are known to kill cubs from non-dominant females in the social group. Badgers can mate year round, but most commonly in late winter through early spring and late summer through early fall. At times, males expand their territories to cross-breed with extra-group females. Gestation lasts between 9 and 21 months and litters produce 1–6 cubs at a time; females are fertile during pregnancy so multiple paternity births are common.

Cubs first emerge from their dens after eight to 10 weeks and are weaned by the age of 2.5 months. They are sexually mature at about a year old, and their lifespans are typically six years, although the oldest known wild badger lived to 14.

Badger sow and cubs family feeding in a woodland forest
TonyBaggett/Getty Images

Threats

European badgers do not have many predators or natural enemies. In some parts of their range, wolves, dogs, and lynxes pose a threat. In some areas, Eurasian badgers live side-by-side other predators such as foxes without conflict. The IUCN Red List comments that since Eurasian badgers occur in many protected areas and there are high densities found in anthropogenic habitats in large parts of its range, the Eurasian badger is highly unlikely to be declining at nearly the rate required to qualify for listing even as Near Threatened.

They are targeted for hunting for food or persecuted as a pest, and in some urban and suburban areas, the population has decreased. Although estimates are unreliable, researchers believe the overall population has been increasing throughout their range since the 1980s. During the mid-1990s, the Badgers were classed Lower Risk/least concern (LR/LC) because of elevated occurrence of rabies and tuberculosis, although those diseases have since decreased substantially.

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