After the female badgers have given birth in or around February,
there is a competition to ensure the survival of the cub or cubs.
There are most commonly three cubs in a litter. However, it is not
unusual for a female to have just one cub. Occasionally, litters of
four or even five cubs are born, though it will be unusual if more
than two cubs survive from a larger litter. In many litters the
smaller cub may not survive for more than a few weeks if food or water is
scarce; and very sadly some cubs may die underground before they have emerged
from the nesting chamber.
New-born cubs have a light covering of dirty-white or silvery
grey fur. This fur is a little darker on the legs, and sometimes
there are faint stripes on the face. All cubs have stripes on their
faces within a few days of being born.
The cubs have their eyes closed at first. Their eyes do not open until they
are five weeks old. Even then, they cannot see properly for a few
more weeks, although as they live in a dark, underground chamber,
there is not much for them to see anyway!
When they are around 6 to 7 weeks old, the cubs start exploring
the tunnels of their sett. At 8 weeks old, they may come up to the
sett entrances. However, they do not usually start exploring outside
the sett until they are nine to ten weeks old. Even then, they like
to stay close to their mother, and they do not go very far from the
sett entrances. This will usually be in late April or early May.
By early May, the cubs have grown to weigh around 3 kilogrammes,
and look like smaller versions of adult badgers. Their muzzles are
shorter though, and like most young mammals, they are still quite
fluffy-looking and very cute to look at!
Mother badgers suckle their young for about 12 weeks or so. After
this, weaning starts - the mothers suckle the cubs less and less.
The hungry cubs then have to start finding their own
To begin with, the cubs follow their mother when she goes searching
for food (foraging). They soon learn what's good to eat, and how
find food for themselves. By the time they are 15 weeks old, the
cubs are quite happy to go foraging alone.
Badger cubs are very playful. They often play-fight and chase
each other to and fro. A popular game is "tag" when the
cubs chase each other around a tree trunk or in and out of holes.
Cubs also use old logs or steep banks to play a type of
"king-of-the-castle", where one cub takes up a higher
position and the others try to dislodge it. Whilst appearing to be
pure playfulness, the games fulfill a very useful function in life.
Badger cub play helps to develop co-ordination, and strengthen
muscles; and it helps to establish a sort of pecking order in terms
of strength and seniority within the young clan members.
By the autumn, badger cubs are nearly as big as adult badgers. They
play much less now, and spend more time eating. They need to build
up their body fat so that they will survive their first winter, when
there isn't so much food around. If they live through the winter,
they have a good chance of growing into fully adult badgers, and
having cubs of their own.
Journal of Zoology (2000), 250:113-119 Cambridge
University Press - Accepted March 16 1999
Copyright © 2000 The Zoological Society of London
Helpers provide no detectable benefits in the
European badger (Meles meles)
Rosie Woodroffe a1 c1 and David W. Macdonald a1
a1 Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology, South
Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, U.K.
c1 All correspondence to present address: Department of Biological
Sciences, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, U.K. E-mail:
Many studies of co-operatively breeding vertebrates
have shown that social groups which contain more helpers experience
higher reproductive success. Few of these studies, however, have
demonstrated that this is a causal relationship. Using data on a
co-operatively breeding population of European badgers Meles meles, this
study shows that the relationship between helper number and group
reproductive success is a spurious one generated through the effect of
territory quality. Within this population, most variation in cub
production, growth rate and survival is explained by variation in food
availability between years and between territories. Unusually for
mammals, juvenile mortality is markedly higher in females than in males.
After controlling for such effects, helpers appear to have only negative
effects upon group reproductive success, and mothers with helpers are in
poorer condition at the end of the breeding period than those without
helpers. A high proportion of helpers are sexually mature females which
have failed to breed as a result of intense competition for resources.
Under such circumstances, alloparental care represents a low-cost,
low-benefit behaviour which may mitigate the negative impact that
non-breeding group members have upon the reproductive success of their