Badgers are one of those animals that feels so quintessentially British. Not only are they a staple of the British countryside, though, but there is also plenty of knowledge to be learned about them.
In this article, we're going to talk about badgers at great length, and we're sure that you'll be able to learn a thing or two!
Badgers are, in a world, unique. They're small and powerful, with their underground homes - known as setts - being extended tunnels under woodland throughout the world.
They're a member of the mustelid family, and this can be seen by a quick look at them. Compared to pine martens, otters, and ferrets, it's easy to see the common traits - furry, short legs, and a long face. Not to mention some long claws!
In the UK, groups of badgers typically live in a badger sett, in mixed-sex groups with between four and eight individual animals. Any ground that's living together in the same sett is generally referred to as a clan.
Interestingly, badgers act quite differently from some other, similar, mammals. Individuals within a sett typically go hunting throughout the woodland and countryside that they live in, and don't share the rewards of the hunt with their clan members.
This is unusual among small mammals, who often believe in the adage 'safety in numbers', and will forage and eat with that in mind.
Badgers habitats - Where do Badgers live?
Badgers themselves live within setts, with adult badgers in sets often numbering from four to eight. Their natural habitats, from northern Ireland to mainland Scotland, are generally situated within a woodland, or around the edges thereof.
This is because unworked soil and green spaces generally have quite diggable soil, especially for the sharp claws of a badger.
Setts can be hugely complex and old, with multiple entrances and exits. They can also be particularly small and young, in which case they're typically referred to as 'outliers'.
Some of the largest setts out there can have as many as fifty entrances, and be more than a hundred years old!
These ancient setts will be family homes. They'll typically be used, maintained, and enlarged by the badger population of a set on many occasions, throughout their tenure under the ground.
Many badgers within a larger sett such as the ancient ones will likely be family members - badgers often give birth to large numbers of young, and these young may simply stay in their parent's main sett.
From the main sett, either the parents or the children may choose to move to a small outlier sett, in which the badger can have more space to themselves, and, crucially, de facto rights to nearby foraging grounds.
How long do Badgers live?
This can be a bit of a tricky question to answer. For that reason, we're going to talk a little about the biology of the badger before we talk about their life span.
A male badger, or a female badger, can grow up to around a meter in size. Their skin typically fits quite loosely on them, which is likely an evolutionary trait that's stuck around for a long time.
This is because loose skin makes it trickier for predators to get a grip on them, allowing badgers to slip away a little.
Fat, and torpor
There is typically a thick layer of fat under the skin of the badger. This is used for the badger to live in torpor during winter when they show massively decreased activity, and may simply stay in their sett.
The bodyweight of most badgers goes up and down quite considerably during a given year.
This is because they typically need more or less fat during different seasons, and more or less food may be available. Interestingly, due to the fact that female badgers need little fat at this point in time, they're typically at their lightest shortly after giving birth.
With that in mind, badgers themselves can live for around fourteen years. Sadly, though, it's rare for them to live quite that long in the wild.
There is a huge range of things that can affect their lifespan, which is why we wanted to mention the different influencing factors in the paragraphs above.
The most dangerous thing for badgers, though, is humans - a large proportion of badgers are typically killed in road accidents.
Where do Badgers live? About Badger Setts
Badger setts are a fascinating study of the different ways that generations of mammals will alter the environment they're in.
Studies have been done on setts for a long time, and from data pertaining to badger cubs, badger hair, and badger tracks, we've learned some interesting things.
Left to its own devices, a badger will typically create a fairly small sett, for itself and, perhaps, a mate. This will have one entrance and exit, and it may typically be only a little larger than the badger itself.
If cubs are born, though, each new badger will dig a little deeper into the soil around the sett, creating further chambers and tunnels that allow for a more complex sett.
As they grow more elaborate, badger tracks can be seen entering and exiting from a wealth of different holes throughout the body of the sett, which will serve as different entrances and exits.
This complexity typically serves the badger well, as they're accustomed to exploring in the dark like that, making use of different senses to find their way through small tunnels.
A predator that catches sight of a black and white striped face, though, is unlikely to understand the layout of a sett. This leads to a distinct architectural advantage for any badgers within a sett.
Do Badgers hibernate?
Technically, no. Badgers don't hibernate throughout winter, though they do reduce their activity level by a considerable amount. This is referred to as entering a state of torpor, where they will rely on fat reserves, huddled in their setts to conserve warmth.
Badgers will typically emerge from their sett at the start of the mating season, which is at the start of spring. Social groups within a sett, called clans, will typically be in torpor together and may be tricky to rouse.
How big are Badgers?
Badgers are typically a little larger than you might first expect. From picture and video references, people generally presume that they're around the same size as a westie or another breed of a small dog.
They're actually around one meter long, which is roughly the length of a golden retriever, which is typically considered a medium-sized dog.
Their weight can vary quite drastically throughout the year, as seasons come and go, and assorted different health conditions may hit them.
This means that, just before winter, when they're at their heaviest, they typically look a little chubby, or rotund. At their skinniest, though, they may look a little more scrappy.
What noise do badgers make?
A badger is fairly unique in terms of the sounds that it can make, as most comparable animals either make just one or two noises or are fairly silent.
The thing that's impressive about badgers, though, is that they seem to have absorbed the sounds that several different species can make into themselves, leading to a complex range of noises.
The main noise that badgers make is bark. This noise is quite simple, though also quite different from the bark of a dog. It's a high-pitched noise, quite similar to yapping noises made by foxes and vixens.
A surprising alternative
They can also purr, a little. While it's not as pronounced as the purring that cats may do in your home, it's quite an intense noise. UK badgers (also known as the Eurasian badger) typically purr to communicate between a mother badger and her cubs.
The purring can also be used by mature badgers as a mating call, though this is a little rare.
What do Badgers eat - a guide to the Badger's diet
Badgers have often been described by scientists as opportunistic omnivores. They eat almost anything and everything, from earthworms to exceptionally small mammals.
In a single night, a badger can eat over two hundred worms!
While worms are the preferred food of badgers, they're sometimes unavailable, due to frost or other seasonal or environmental changes.
In those situations, badgers can eat other invertebrates like snails and slugs, or soft fruit like berries from bushes.
Sometimes, the badger has been known to eat hedgehogs, if they really need to. Thankfully, this is extremely rare.
When can you see Badgers?
Badgers are generally nocturnal, and they enter a state of torpor during winter. They'd be great garden wildlife to photograph if you could do so at night!
This means that they come out of their setts during the night. Also, during cold, long winters, they'll stay within their sett.
Therefore, the best time to see badgers in the wild is when those conditions aren't met. In other words, look for them in the night-time, and when it's not winter.
Spring nights are the most likely time of year to see badgers, as it's the start of the mating season.
This means that they'll likely be out of their setts, looking for mates. On top of that, they'll have only recently come out of torpor, meaning that they'll be hungry and on the lookout for food.
In the UK, the badger actually has no natural predators!
Historically speaking, it's likely that the badger would have been predated upon by wolves and bears, but those animals no longer live in the wild in the UK.
In the US, for example, there are still some natural predators of the badger - coyotes and eagles sometimes go for a badger. In the UK, though, the animals have no natural predators at all.
The closest thing that the badger has to a main predator is cars, oddly. Every year, somewhere between 45,000 and 50,000 badgers are killed on UK roads.
How to help an injured badger
The first thing to bear in mind when approaching an injured badger is that they can be quite violent animals.
In early spring, when they're often found in the wild and on the edges of roads, they can sometimes be injured by cars. When that happens, there are a few things you can do.
Firstly, approach the badger slowly and calmly. If it's spooked, it's likely to lash out.
If it's still alive and injured, your best bet is to simply stay a little way away from it, and call a local wildlife rehabilitator, or call the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999. The RSPCA will likely be able to send someone to you, that will know how to help the badger.
While waiting, people generally recommend that you throw a light blanket over the badger.
This sense of being enclosed can make them feel a little safer, which will slow their heartbeat and can prevent blood loss to some degree. It goes without saying, though, that you'll probably want to throw that blanket out after you use it for that - bear that in mind.
Five facts about Badgers
A badger's nest is called a sett, and they can live there with other family members, in a 'clan'.
The earliest traces of badgers in the UK have been dated back to 750,000 years ago.
Some setts that a badger family maintains and lives in can be over a hundred years old.
A badger will sometimes predate upon hedgehogs when they have no other food sources available.
A badger can give birth to one to five cubs in one litter.