Taxidea taxus
(American Badger)

Order: Carnivora
Order Description: Carnivores
Family: Mustelidae
Family Description: Weasels, Skunks and Others

The badger's fur is grayish and grizzled with black. It has a "badge-like" black marking on its face, which is accentuated by white that extends from the face rearward. The badger body is well suited for digging; it is short and stout and somewhat flattened. Its ears are rather short and its snout appears slightly upturned. Its legs are short and stout, black colored and well suited for digging. The foreclaws are long and curved and its hind claws are shovel-like. Badgers always adopt a low profile, seeming to hug the ground. Total length is 24 to 30 inches (600-750 mm), their tail is about 4 to 6 inches (105-150 mm) and they weigh up to 26 pounds (12 kg).

Badgers range from the Great Lakes states west to Pacific Coast, and from Canadian Prairie Provinces, south to Mexican Plateau.

Prefers open areas with enough soil to dig in, but can be found from high alpine country to low valleys. They may also frequent brushlands with little groundcover. They seem especially common in large grass and sagebrush meadows and valleys. In Idaho, this species occurs in shrub steppeClick word for definition, in agricultural areas, and in open woodland forests.

They feed primarily on small rodents such as ground squirrels, pocket gophers, kangaroo rats, prairie dogs, and mice, most of which they capture by digging into the burrows of these small mammals. But, they will also eat scorpions, insects, snakes (even rattlesnakes), lizards, and birds, especially when rodent population is low. An Idaho study reported that individuals preyed on Townsend's ground squirrels, lagomorphs, deer mice, kangaroo rats, and various arthropods.

They are usually active day and night, but primarily nocturnalClick word for definition activity has been reported. They remain underground in burrows when inactive. They use permanent dens in the winter, but during the summer they often dig a new den each day. In one Idaho study, individuals rarely stayed underground for more than 24 hours except in the winter. One female emerged from her winter den only once during a 72 day period. A southwestern Idaho study reported winter underground stays from several days to several weeks. Their population densityClick word for definition averages 1 badger per 2.6 km2 in prime open country, although a southeastern Idaho study reported 5 badgers per km2 that were associated with ground squirrel populations in areas of sparse vegetation. One Idaho study reported a home range of less than 4 km2, while another in-state study found that adult home range averaged 2.4 km2 Most young-of-year badgers dispersed during their first summer (up to 110 km). Home ranges of badgers tend to overlap, but individuals are basically solitary. Since badgers dig burrows frequently, both in search of prey and for shelter, their burrows are common in badger habitat. Elliptical in shape, about 8 to 12 inches high and 12 to 18 inches wide, their burrows are important ecologically for other species. Various small mammals, such as ground squirrels and rabbits use their burrows for shelter, as do snakes and other vertebrates. Badgers have been maligned by humans because their burrows can be injurious to livestock, but rodent control and the cover their burrows provide for other wildlife probably offset the few leg injuries to livestock. Badgers are considered to be solitary, but recently there have been reports and sightings of badgers and coyotes hunting together. Coyotes take advantage of rodents escaping from burrows being excavated by badgers, and badgers take advantage of rodents escaping from coyote foraging by scurrying into burrows. This seems like an example of predator mutualismClick word for definition. Badgers have earned a reputation for their ferocity. When cornered they use what seems to be their main lines of defense: either burrowing out of sight or hissing loudly and feigning charges.

Mating occurs mid- to late summer and even into early fall. implantationClick word for definition is delayed until December to February. Females produce 1 litterClick word for definition averaging 3 (2 to 5) young, born from March to early April (Idaho study found 1.4 young). The young are altricialClick word for definition , being blind and only partially furred. Females nurse their young through June and young leave their family groups in early fall. The male will occasionally stay close to the female when young are in the nest burrow. An Idaho study reported 30% of young-of-year females bred, and males reached sexual maturity as yearlings.

Status: Unprotected nongame species
Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5

Important State References:
Messick, J.P. and M.G. Hornocker. 1981. Ecology of the badger in southwestern Idaho. Wildl. Monog. 76:1-53.

Information written by Donald Streubel,© 2000
Map image provided by
Stephen Burton,© 2000
Design by Ean Harker©1999, 2000.