The American badger (Taxidea taxus) is a North American badger,
somewhat similar in appearance to the European badger. It is found
in the western and central United States, northern Mexico, and south-central
Canada to certain areas of southwestern British Columbia.
American badger's habitat is typefied by open grasslands with
available prey (such as mice, squirrels, and groundhogs). The species
prefers areas such as prairie regions with sandy loam soils where
it can dig more easily for its prey.
The American badger is a member of the Mustelidae, a diverse family
of carnivorous mammals that also includes the weasel, otter, ferret,
and wolverine. The American badger belongs to the Taxidiinae, one
of three subfamilies of badgers the other two being the Melinae
(9 species, including the Eurasian badger) and the Mellivorinae
(honey badger). The American badger's closest relative is the prehistoric
Recognized subspecies include: the nominate subspecies T. t.
taxus, found in central Canada and central US; T. t. jacksoni, found
in the southern Great Lakes region including southern Ontario; T.
t. jeffersoni, in British Columbia and the western US; and T. t.
berlandieri, in the southwestern US and northern Mexico. Ranges
of subspecies overlap considerably, with intermediate forms occurring
in the areas of overlap.
In Mexico, this animal is sometimes called tlalcoyote. The Spanish
word for badger is tejón, but in Mexico this word is also
used to describe the coati. This can lead to confusion, as both
coatis and badgers are found in Mexico.
The American badger has most of the general characteristics
common to badgers; with stocky and low-slung bodies with short,
powerful legs, they are identifiable by their huge foreclaws (measuring
up to 5 cm in length) and distinctive head markings. Measuring generally
between 60 and 75 cm (23.5 and 29.5 in) in length, males of the
species are slightly larger than females. They may attain an average
weight of roughly 6.3 to 7.2 kg (14 to 16 lb) for females and up
to 8.6 kg (19 lb) for males. Northern subspecies such as T. t. jeffersonii
are heavier than the southern subspecies. In the fall, when food
is plentiful, adult male badgers can reach up to 11.5 to 15 kg (25
to 33 lb). In some northern populations, females can average 9.5
kg (21 lb).
Elliott, 1842-1899 - Fur-bearing animals : a monograph
of North American Mustelidae (1877) by Coues, Elliott, 1842-1899,
Public Domain, Link
paw with long and sharp claw of American badger. American
badger can dig the ground with this claw.
- Own work, CC
BY-SA 3.0, Link
Except for the head, the American badger is covered with a grizzled,
brown, black and white coat of coarse hair or fur, giving almost
a mixed brown-tan appearance. The coat aids in camouflage in grassland
habitat. Its triangular face shows a distinctive black and white
pattern, with brown or blackish "badges" marking the cheeks
and a white stripe extending from the nose to the base of the head.
In the subspecies T. t. berlandieri, the white head stripe extends
the full length of the body, to the base of the tail.
The American badger is a fossorial carnivore. It preys predominantly
on pocket gophers (Geomyidae), ground squirrels (Spermophilus),
moles (Talpidae), marmots (Marmota), prairie dogs (Cynomys), pika
(Ochotona), woodrats (Neotoma), kangaroo rats (Dipodomys), deer
mice (Peromyscus), and voles (Microtus), often digging to pursue
prey into their dens, and sometimes plugging tunnel entrances with
objects. The American badger is a significant predator of snakes
including rattlesnakes, and is considered the most important predator
of rattlesnakes in South Dakota. They also prey on ground-nesting
birds, such as the bank swallow or sand martin (Riparia riparia)
and burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia), and lizards, amphibians,
carrion, fish, skunks (Mephitis and Spilogale), insects, including
bees and honeycomb, and some plant foods such as corn (Zea mais),
peas, green beans, mushrooms and other fungi, and sunflower seeds
American badgers are generally nocturnal; however, in remote areas
with no human encroachment they are routinely observed foraging
during the day. Seasonally, a badger observed during daylight hours
in the Spring months of late March to early May often represents
a female foraging during daylight and spending nights with her young.
Badgers do not hibernate but may become less active in winter. A
badger may spend much of the winter in cycles of torpor that last
around 29 hours. They do emerge from their burrows when the temperature
is above freezing.
An abandoned badger burrow may be occupied by mammals of similar
size, such as foxes and skunks, as well as animals as diverse as
the burrowing owl, California Tiger Salamander and California Red-Legged
Frog. The American Badger has been seen working with a coyote in
tandem while hunting. Typically this pairing is one badger to one
coyote, however, one study found about 9% of sightings included
two coyotes to one badger, while 1% had one badger to three coyotes.
Researchers have found that the coyote benefits by an increased
catch rate of about 33%, and while it is difficult to see precisely
how the badger benefits, the badger has been noted to spend more
time underground and active. Badgers are also thought to expend
less energy while hunting in burrows. According to research, this
partnership works due to the different hunting styles of the predators
and how they prey reacts to them. A ground squirrel, upon spotting
a coyote, will crawl into its hole to escape; while upon seeing
a badger, the ground squirrel will climb out of its hole and use
its speed to out run the badger. Hunting in tandem raises the prey
vulnerability and both predators win.Life
Badgers are normally solitary animals, but are thought
to expand their territories in the breeding season to seek out mates.
Mating occurs in late summer and early fall, with some males breeding
with more than one female. American badgers experience delayed implantation,
with pregnancies suspended until December or as late as February.
Young are born from late March to early April in litters ranging
from one to five young, averaging about three.
Badgers are born blind, furred, and helpless. Eyes open at four
to six weeks. The female feeds her young solid foods prior to complete
weaning, and for a few weeks thereafter. Young American badgers
first emerge from the den on their own at five to six weeks old.
Families usually break up and juveniles disperse from the end of
June to August; young American badgers leave their mothers as early
as late May or June. Juvenile dispersal movements are erratic.
Most female American badgers become pregnant for the first time
after they are a year old. A minority of females four to five months
old ovulate and a few become pregnant. Males usually do not breed
until their second year.
Large predators occasionally kill American badgers. The average
longevity in the wild is 910 years, with a record of 14; a
captive example lived at least 15 years and five months.
American badgers prefer grasslands and open areas with grasslands,
which can include parklands, farms, and treeless areas with friable
soil and a supply of rodent prey. They may also be found in forest
glades and meadows, marshes, brushy areas, hot deserts, and mountain
meadows. They are sometimes found at elevations up to 12,000 feet
(3,700 m) but are usually found in the Sonoran and Transition life
zones (which are at elevations lower and warmer than those characterized
by coniferous forests). In Arizona, they occur in desert scrub and
semidesert grasslands. In California, American badgers are primarily
able to survive through a combination of open grasslands of agricultural
lands, protected land trust and open space lands, and even regional
and state and national park lands with grassland habitat. The Sonoma
County badger population includes some protected and private lands
near the Sonoma Coast, as well as one in South Sonoma County fragilely
surviving in spite of abundant prey due to fragmentation. Badgers
are occasionally found in open chaparral (with less than 50% plant
cover) and riparian zones. They are not usually found in mature
chaparral. In Manitoba aspen parklands, American badger abundance
was positively associated with the abundance of Richardson's ground
squirrels (Spermophilus richardsonii). In Ontario it primarily resides
on the extreme southwestern portion of the province, restricted
to the north shore of Lake Erie in open areas generally associated
with agriculture and along woodland edges. There have been a few
reports from the Bruce-Grey region.
can be found in the sagebrush deserts of eastern Oregon.
American badger use of home range varies with season and sex.
Different areas of the home range are used more frequently at different
seasons and usually are related to prey availability. Males generally
have larger home ranges than females. In a study almost 40 years
ago, radiotransmitter-tagged American badgers had an average annual
home range of 2,100 acres (850 hectares). The home range of one
female was 1,790 acres (720 hectares) in summer, 131 acres (53 hectares)
in fall, and 5 acres (2.0 hectares) in winter. Lindzey reported
average home ranges of 667 to 1,550 acres (270 to 627 ha). Estimated
density of American badgers in Utah scrub-steppe was one per square
mile (2.6 km2), with 10 dens in active or recent use.
As of 2014, overdevelopment of American Badger habitat had resulted
in reduced range, decreased prey, and forced badgers into contact
with man foraging between fragments. Direct observations in Sonoma
County, documenting habitat and badger sightings and foraging, reflect
various ranges within the fragmented habitat areas from less than
1/2 mile to approximately 4 miles. Within these areas, the availability
of prey and a fresh water source are key factors for the preferred
habitat areas and ability to survive. Identifying and conserving
habitat areas where there is year-round activity, along with identified
burrowing patterns and observations of female badger territory for
birthing and raising young have become critical factors in survival
of the species.
American badgers are most commonly found in treeless areas, including
tallgrass and shortgrass prairies, grass-dominated meadows and fields
within forested habitats, and shrub-steppe communities. In the Southwest,
plant indicators of the Sonoran and Transition life zones (relatively
low, dry elevations) commonly associated with American badgers include
creosotebush (Larrea tridentata), junipers (Juniperus spp.), gambel
oak (Quercus gambelii), willows (Salix spp.), cottonwoods (Populus
spp.), ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), grasses, and sagebrushes
In Colorado in 1977, American badgers were common in grassforb
and ponderosa pine habitats. In Kansas, they are common in tallgrass
prairie dominated by big bluestem (Andropogon gerardi), little bluestem
(Schizachyrium scoparium), and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans).
In Montana 24 years ago, badgers were present in Glacier National
Park in fescue (Festuca spp.) grasslands. In Manitoba, they occur
in grassland extensions within aspen (Populus spp.) parklands.
American badgers require cover for sleep, concealment, protection
from weather, and natal denning. They typically enlarge foraged
out gopher or other prey holes, or other animal burrows. Their dens
range from about 4 feet to 10 feet in depth and 4 feet to 6 feet
in width. A female American Badger may create 2 to 4 burrows in
proximity with a connecting tunnel for concealment and safety for
her young. Displaced soil from digging out the burrow characteristically
appears in front of the burrow entrance, and a view from a distance
reveals a mound-like roof of the burrow, with the living and concealment
space created underneath the raised-roof appearing mound.
During summer and autumn, badgers range more frequently, with
mating season generally in November, and burrowing patterns reflect
1 to 3 burrows may be dug from foraged out prey holes in a day,
used for a day to a week, and then abandoned, with possible returns
later, and other small wildlife utilizing abandoned burrows in the
interim. Where prey is particularly plentiful, they will reuse dens,
especially in the fall, sometimes for a few days at a time. In winter,
a single den may be used for most of the season. Natal dens are
dug by the female and are used for extended periods, but litters
may be moved, probably to allow the mother to forage in new areas
close to the nursery. Natal dens are usually larger and more complex
than diurnal dens.
While the American badger is an aggressive animal with few natural
enemies it is still vulnerable to other species in its habitat.
Predation on smaller individuals by golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos),
coyotes, cougars (Puma concolor), and bobcats (Lynx rufus) have
been reported. Bears (Ursus spp.) and gray wolves (Canis lupus)
occasionally kill American badgers.
American badgers are trapped by humans for their pelts. Their
fur is used for shaving and painting brushes.
In May 2000, the Canadian Species at Risk Act listed both the Taxidea
taxus jacksoni and the T. t. jeffersonii subspecies as an endangered
species in Canada. The California Department of Fish and Game designated
the American badger as a California species of special concern.