Written by Nicklas Iversen | Last edited 10. June 2021
As probably Norway’s best-known mustelid, the badger is the subject of several undeserved myths. Did you know that the idea of badgers biting until bones crunch is nonsense?
THE BADGER'S PHYSIQUE
The badger has a very characteristic appearance and is very difficult to mistake when you first see one. The easiest way to recognise a badger is to look at its face, as it has a chalk-white face with two black stripes running back over its eyes to the neck.
The fur is quite long and generally greyish in colour. The fur can nevertheless be dark, brownish and reddish, or sometimes even completely white (albinos).
The body is powerful and compact with a small head on a short neck. The legs are short, but powerful, and have large claws.
An adult male badger can weigh around 6 – 8 kg in summer, while the females are rarely heavier than 5 – 6 kg. Towards the end of summer and into autumn, they increase their feeding activity and can weigh up to 15 kg when they take to their den, or sett, for the winter.
Photo: Even Hønsen Agerup.
HOW DO BADGERS LIVE?
The badger is a nocturnal mustelid that can survive in many different habitats. It traditionally prefers areas of woodland close to farms and cultivated fields, but is also found in towns, densely populated areas and other places where it is easy to obtain food from us humans.
If you go walking in housing developments at night, it is actually not uncommon to meet a badger. The reason they do so well there is that they love to eat earthworms, and what could be better than a neatly manicured, nutritious lawn? Lawns offer perfect conditions for earthworms, which emerge from the ground at night. The badger then jumps at the chance to get a little easy food. Maybe your garden has been visited by a badger in the night.
The badger is also one of the few mustelids to be social to some extent, and it is not unusual to see badgers living in pairs or family groups. Some also choose to go at it alone and lead a solitary existence. These solitary badgers will nevertheless live with a family group in the period after birth.
When a badger lives in wooded areas, it will dig a sett (which is the badger’s den) in dry ground. This sett can be home to a whole family, and up to 15 residents have been recorded in the same sett! Just like the wolverine’s den, the badger’s sett will have several rooms with different functions – bedrooms, separate toilet areas, and other rooms and passages that function as a nursery for the cubs and mother. The badger will not, on the other hand, use the sett to store food, but prefers to keep surplus food in another location.
Badgers living in towns or densely populated areas may hit upon using alternative setts. They might quite simply make themselves at home in an old, disused cellar, under a barn floor, under a veranda or in other man-made buildings that allow them to live fairly undisturbed.
If you find a badger living under your veranda, however, it is not necessarily its main sett. In fact, many badgers have secondary setts that they can sleep in for short periods while they are out looking for food. What could be better than taking a little nap after slurping down earthworms all night?
Photo: Even Hønsen Agerup.
WHAT DO BADGERS EAT?
Badgers are highly adaptable when it comes to diet, but earthworms are the most important source of food for most badgers. Earthworms usually live deep in the ground, but come up to the surface at night, particularly if conditions are a little damp. Then the badger seizes the chance to hunt for worms, using its amazing sense of smell to search the grass for any that poke their head up above ground.
As you might expect, parks, gardens and other places where the grass is cut and fed regularly are perfect locations for the badger. That is why there is a good chance of finding badgers in your garden at night, especially when there is a little moisture in the air.
The badger does not just eat earthworms. While it is in your garden, it will happily gobble up any snails, insects, frogs or other small animals that might be there. The same applies to badgers living in woodland, where they will eat a lot of small animals, and take both young birds and small rodents that they manage to sniff out.
Some badgers have also learned that dustbins are a good source of food, and there are plenty of examples of badgers overturning all the bins in an entire neighbourhood in a single night. In this case, they will eat all the leftovers they come across and make a terrible mess in order to get hold of all the food. If you wake up one morning to discover that the dustbins have been overturned, the bags torn open and the contents scattered all over the place, there is a good chance that you have been visited by a badger.
The badger also enjoys a plant-based diet, including berries, fruit and roots. Some farmers have experienced badgers pawing about and eating grain in their fields, which does a great deal of damage to the crops, of course.
Photo: Even Hønsen Agerup.
THE BADGER'S WINTER DORMANCY
When the temperature starts to get down towards freezing in October-November, badgers begin to withdraw into their setts, where they will go to bed for the winter and not reappear until the weather starts to warm up in March.
Although badgers sleep in their setts all winter, they do not go into hibernation. Instead, like the bear, they lie in something called a winter sleep. During their winter sleep, their body temperature drops a few degrees, enabling them to save energy. The sleep is deep, and under normal circumstances they will not wake up until spring.
During winter dormancy, badgers are sustained by the many kilos of fat they put on in late summer.
Foto: Even Hønsen Agerup.
Just like bears, badgers give birth to young in their sett during winter, usually in February or March. The cubs are very small when born, so they have to grow for two or three months before they can leave the sett to explore the immediate area.
The cubs live together with their mother and father, as well as any siblings still living in the same sett. Some of the cubs will leave the family that autumn when they are barely six months old, but the majority will wait another year. Some will also remain in the sett more or less their whole lives and take it over when the parents die.
WHERE ARE BADGERS FOUND IN NORWAY AND AROUND THE WORLD.
The badger is what is called a palearctic species, which means that it is found throughout Europe, in Africa north of the Sahara and in Asia north of the Himalayas. It is not found in America or in the southern hemisphere.
In Norway, it is found in much of the country. Its actual range is considered to be south of Namdalen in Trøndelag, but some individuals have been observed right up in Finnmark. It is very rare to encounter a badger north of Namdalen, however.
ARE BADGERS DANGEROUS?
Previous myths about badgers being a danger to humans, but they are not true. As long as you show them respect and keep your distance, badgers will always shrink away from us humans.
If you manage to corner one or put it in a situation where it feels there is no escape, it may show its teeth and look aggressive. This is only something they do if they have no other choice, and the best thing to do is to back off and allow the badger to get away.
So, if you meet a badger, you should do exactly the same as if you meet a bear or one of the other large predators: talk to it and make sure it knows you are there. Keep a respectable distance from the animal and enjoy the spectacle from there. If it does not run away when you talk to it, you can quietly withdraw while continuing to talk in a normal voice.
The myth about badgers biting until bones crunch is precisely that – a myth. You do not have to worry about being bitten, and if, against all probability, it should happen, it will not be possible for it to either bite down to or crush bone.
Photo: Even Hønsen Agerup.
CHALLANGES FACING BADGERS
Although the badger is a predatory mammal, it is not without enemies. In late summer and autumn, it can reach a weight of up to 15 kg, and several of these kilos are pure fat, which it will live off in the coming winter. This is very tempting for larger predators, of course. It is likely that wolves can take some badgers in late summer and autumn, and it has been documented that lynx also manage to take badgers if they get the chance.
Other predators are not the biggest challenge for badgers, however. Rather, there is a huge killing machine weighing a tonne and half that comes hurtling round corners at well over 80 km/h! It is, in fact, quite common for badgers to be hit by cars, as they often wander along roads when they go out hunting at night.
Foto: Anne Lise.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE BADGER
På nettsidene nedenfor kan du lære ennå mer om grevling:
Learn more about the badger
You can learn even more about the badger on the following websites:
- Badger at Store norske leksikon.
- Badger at the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre.
- Badger at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI).
We have also used them as sources for this information page.
This article has been written by Nicklas Iversen, a former nature guide at Visitor Centre Carnivore Flå.
Photo: Christopher Allen.