By Diane Dragotto Williams
A somewhat flat-looking, mop of a mammal, short legged, its body comprised of long, shaggy, brown and gray fur, a triangular head, a pointed, tipped-up nose, with a distinguishing black striped and badge-like white pattern on its face is Taxidea taxus. Primarily found in the Great Plains of North America, the American Badger can be found in Southern California. These hardy animals prefer to live in dry, open grasslands, fields, pastures and high alpine meadows.
Weighing from 8 to 26 pounds, and 20 to 34 inches long, the badger can be a formidable opponent in a creature fight, holding its own against coyote, and, even, bear. Its menacing canine teeth flash dangerously close to its enemy in a scuffle, while the tough, loose skin behind its neck, if grabbed, gives wiggle room to turn around and surprise its attacker! When a badger is threatened, it will hiss, growl, squeal, snarl, and release a pungent musk smell to ward away predators.
This robust animal is an excellent digging machine using its front, big feet with long, backward-curving claws, while the back, short, shovel-like claws take up the rear! Badgers can tunnel after ground-dwelling rodents with amazing speed for its bulky, broad, ungainly body. A solitary animal with keen scent and hearing, it usually captures its prey by invading burrows of ground squirrels, mice, voles, gophers, rabbits, prairie dogs, and even, burrowing owls. However, birds, like bank swallows, and their eggs, as well as, reptiles, amphibians, insects, bees, fish and hibernating skunks can also be on the menu. Their hunting skills are evident when they outsmart venomous snakes, like rattlers! An unusual hunting technique involves cooperative work with coyotes. Tolerating each other, though at times, they can be enemies, they’ve adapted to a helpful relationship. As the badger “ferrets” out a possible contender for a meal from a burrow, the coyote will wait patiently nearby to catch a fleeing animal from the tunnel. In turn, the coyote will allow the badger to catch the next tasty morsel that tries to escape the dynamic duo!
Galloping at 16 to 19 miles an hour, the badger may escape into a nearby shelter from the grasp of golden eagles, bobcats, cougars and coyotes, giving the badger a lifespan of 4 to 14 years in the wild! Mainly nocturnal, and remaining underground, mostly, during the day, the American badger is active year round. Sleeping several weeks during severe winter weather, it goes into a torpor, lowering its heart rate in half. Mating in late summer and early autumn, the badger breeds once a year, producing a litter of 1 to 5 offspring. Grass-lined dens excavated by the badger are called setts that provide a nursery for birthing, and other burrows used for sleeping, storing food, or escape routes. When prey is scarce, the female must use stored up fat to sustain herself and her growing fetuses (causing much smaller young as juveniles). On occasion, when it is necessary, some badgers form clans called cetes, containing two to fifteen animals living in this extensive burrow system. The badger’s value to the ecosystem revolves around their powerfully built forelimbs that involve digging activities providing shelter for other species, while improving soil development. Wildhaven Ranch once had an up “close and personal” encounter with a high desert badger that migrated to our mountain elevation. Its presence with us made a long, lasting impression of an animal warrior, moderate in stature, but mighty in spirit!
Wildhaven Ranch is a wildlife sanctuary in the San Bernardino Mountains specializing in educating the public about wildlife in our ecosystem. Visit them at www.wildhavenranch.org or call for tours at (909) 337-7389.