I was driving home to Tomales one day after the Point Reyes Farmer’s Market, when I saw this white stripe moving through the grass on the side of the road. “A skunk!” I thought to myself. I hardly had time to debate with myself, the pros and obvious cons of trying to photograph a skunk (especially one that is out and about during the afternoon hours,) when I realized that it was not a skunk.
I used the first dirt pull-off, grabbed my camera, and went for a little jog. This was only the second time I had seen a live badger (I’ve seen several road kills in the area. So, keeping my distance because of rumors of their ferocity, I took pictures of this fine mustelid, until it decided to cross the road. I didn’t get pictures of it crossing, because they are slow crossers and I was obliged to wave down traffic. The badger did not care about the cars. It seemed to think that if they were stupid enough to mess with it, it would give them a lesson.
One man stopped and asked, “Uh is that a hedge hog?” I gently explained it was a badger. He responded with “Wow! Cool… A badger,” and drove away suitably impressed.
And now for a little natural history of the badger-
Taxidea taxus, more commonly known as the American Badger is largely predatory, although it will eat some plant types, such as corn. Known largely for its ferocity and digging ability, it is mostly found in open grasslands and praerie, from subalpine heights all the way down to the ocean. It is most common in the midwest. It belongs to the family mustelid, the same family as weasels and otters. It is a fossorial species (meaning it’s a really good digger. I mean really good, like fantastic.) There are 8 to 10 species of badger, found in North America, Europe and Asia. One of the best names is the honey badger, which likes to eat honey.
The badger has been heavily hunted for sport, and for perceived dangers to livestock. Their large and numerous burrows are a hazard to the fragile legs of are hoofed friends. There is currently an education campaign to teach people the benefits of these digging dynamos. They are important controllers of rodent and small pest populations, their main diet being mice, pocket gophers, ground squirells, and praerie dogs. They also eat amphibians, reptiles (even poisonous snakes!) and insects. They will eat bees and honey cone. Sweet! Old badger dens also serve an important function by providing cover and habitat for a wide range of species, such as the cotton tail and skunks. The digging of badgers also helps with soils aeration and building.
Their main method of hunting is to dig out their prey. Their long front claws (1 to 1 and a half inches long,) short powerful legs, and shovel like back paws make them fast and furious diggers, and their thick and course coats work well for shedding the loose soils. While it is normally a solitary species (doesn’t even really hang out with others of its species, unless they are getting it on,) coyotes and badgers have been seen hunting cooperatively. The coyote waits beside the badger as it digs, waiting to seize any animals dashing from the burrows to escape (coyotes are poor diggers themselves.) The badgers while unable to move quickly, are able to dig out prey that escapes from coyotes by running into holes. They do not share any prey they catch with each other, but neither do they really steal prey from each other. Coyotes and badgers have also been seen at play together.
Badgers are generally 18 to 30 inches in length and can weigh up to about 25 pounds. The females are often somewhat smaller than the males. They have a short tail, usually 3-5 inches long. They have powerful scent glands towards the anal region, which they can use to mark territory and occasionally as a defense mechanism. Their most common method of defense though is to back into a den, facing out with their teeth and claws, and sometimes blocking up the entrance with dirt. Their main danger comes from them big two legged critters (humans) and the smaller furry four legged critters that they have specially bred (dogs) to hunt them down. Actually those little sausage like dogs- dachshunds (dach is the german root for badger) were specially bred to hunt badgers. Agriculture (aka habitat loss,) development (aka habitat loss,) and the fun of killing things (aka man) have led to a significant decline in the number of badgers during the last century. Occasionally badgers suffer predation from golden eagles, bobcats, cougars (mountain lions,) bears and grey wolves.
They are mainly a nocturnal species, all though it is not uncommon to see them out and about during daylight. They do not hibernate, all though during the winter, in colder climates, they will go into a torpor, where their temperature drops to seven degrees celcius, and their heart rate slows. This torpor often lasts for an average of 29 hours. During the summer months they are much more active, often digging a new burrow every day or two, sometimes returning to and using old burrows. Summer is also their mating season. Crazy thing is though, while they get laid in July or August, the fetuses don’t actually start to develope until January or February. They are able to hold them in a quasi suspended animation for about 5 or six months, then they experience a six week gestation period, giving birth around April. The young head out on their own around August. The birthing den is often a grass lined den with a thirty to forty foot shaft, that can reach ten feet below the surface of the ground. It is much more complex than their summer dens.
Their range is generally 1.6 square kilometers to 2.5 square kilometers, all though population densities of up to 5 badgers per square kilometer have been noted in areas with very abundant food sources.
Now that is a cool series of shots..:-))
Thanks Ed. I felt very lucky to be able to take them. It’s not often that a person sees a badger during the day
You are so lucky! I still haven’t ever seen a badger. Good shots and lots of good info. Thanks.
I’ve seen very few. I did however see this badger again, several days after my first sighting of it. It had continued its journey south along Highway 1, and I saw it near Cypress Grove. Rich Clarke then saw it a day or two later near his house in Marshall. It was doing a pretty good dispersal/migration along the bay.
great pix of a “seldom seen” sighting
Great series of shots! I haven’t seen a badger for several years now. I’m afraid that trigger-happy folks have done them all in in this area.
Around here there’s quite a bit of badger sign (holes and dirt mounds) but they aren’t seen very often. They’re common, but rarely seen. Sometimes I go years between sightings. Ranchers worried about their livestock breaking legs has made them wary.
I live in Wales in the UK and, as I’m sure you know, Badgers are quite prolific here. It is as you say different to the North American version, and if you don’t mind me saying I think ours is much prettier, having a more defined Black & White striped pattern on its body. But they are all great.
However, that is not why I am commenting. I’m not sure if you have heard this, but certainly in the UK, it is a known fact that Badgers are carriers of Tuberculoses (TB) and it is said that they can and do pass this on to cattle who graze in the fields where the Badgers live. Dairy cattle are checked for TB every three months here and if they are found to be positive they are put down! Slaughtered and the carcasses destroyed not fit for human consumption. No matter what their breed, so they could be your bog-standard milk cow variety or they could be a rare breed being nurtured to protect the species.
So, our brilliant brained government (!) have said “I say old chaps, I have an idea. Why don’t we jolly well kill off those Badger blighters and then they won’t infect our cattle? Here, here they all cry, you are a goddamn genius Gump!” So a law has just been passed to cull somewhere in the region of 200,000 across the UK. I wouldn’t mind so much if the Government scientist could prove without a shadow of doubt that the Badger does in fact, pass on the TB disease to the cattle. But it hasn’t done that! So they are in the process of putting this into practice as we speak. And guess what method they will use to kill these gorgeous creatures, they are going to employ shooters! Some of course will be crack shots and kill the animals immediately, and some I suspect will be crack-heads and only wound the animal. leaving it to run off and die an agonising death.
Of course we have all signed the necessary declarations berating the idea with 1,000’s of signatures, but all to no avail.
Is it any wonder that as time passes, we are continuing to lose slowly but surely the beautiful wildlife of this planet?
End of rant.
Smashing photos by the way.
I had no idea there was such badger controversy in the UK. I don’t know which is worse, the mob mentality or the buearacrat mentality. Both are dangerous and likely to do blind harm. I hope that some how the government can change its slow behemoth course in time, before it does irreparable harm