The European Badger (Meles meles) is a mustelid that is widely-distributed throughout much of Europe and even the Middle East. It the most social of all badger species, and in general is fairly tolerant even of other non-badger animals. It has been known to share its den with foxes, rabbits, raccoon dogs, but it can be fierce when provoked. They’re little bundles of muscle, using their powerful build to excavate their setts.
European Badgers have distinct black and white stripes on their faces, making them one of the most instantly-recognizable animals in their range. Their fur is dense and thick during the winter and thins out and darkens during the summer. Color variations among badgers include albinos, reds and yellows, though those are not as common as the dark grays and browns. Adult European Badgers vary in weight depending on the season. Before the winter sleep, they can weigh up to 37 pounds (17 kg), but in the summer they can weigh as little as 15 pounds (7 kg). They can measure up to 35 inches (90 cm) in body length.
The diet of the European Badger is varied, with most of it consisting of earthworms and insects. They are opportunistic foragers and will eat practically anything, including small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, grasses, berries, nuts, fruit, and even carrion. Because they are so social, they tend to stay in groups. The average number of adults in a group is six, but groups as large 37 have been observed! Badger setts are complex and intricate networks of burrows, and are often passed down from generation to generation. European Badgers are also finicky creatures and prefer to keep their setts clean, which means that they dig latrines away from their dwellings and engage in mutual grooming.
Female European Badgers can come into season during any time of the year, but most of them tend to breed in the spring. Mating pairs tend to form monogamous, lifelong relationships. Implantation of fertilized eggs is delayed until just before the winter sleep, so that the cubs start being born in January. There are currently eight recognized subspecies of European Badger:
- Meles meles meles (most of Europe)
- Meles meles arcalus (Crete)
- Meles meles canascens (Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenia)
- Meles meles heptneri (Volga delta and Kalmytsk steppes)
- Meles meles marianensis (Iberian Peninsula)
- Meles meles milleri (Norway)
- Meles meles rhodius (Rhodes)
- Meles meles severzovi (Fergana Valley region)
European Badgers play a significant role in European folklore and more modern children’s stories, featuring in stories written by Beatrix Potter, Brian Jacques, Kenneth Graham, Colin Dann, and C.S. Lewis. In The Once and Future King, by T.H. White, Arthur is turned into a badger by Merlin as part of his education, and learns to “dig, and love [his] home.” Unfortunately, European Badgers were also victims of blood sport, notably badger-baiting which is now illegal. Because of their healthy populations, which is increasing in some areas, European Badgers are considered to be a species of least concern by the IUCN.
Source for all images used in this post.