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"I suffer from acute and incurable melophilia ...
a rare and delightful ailmentfrom which I am thankful that I can never be healed ...
The only symptom is a deep affection for badgers."
Phil Drabble

Latin Stuff about Badgers

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Classification History

In the 18th Century Carl Linnaeus published  a multi-volume System of Nature, in which he divided the natural world into different categories. In simple terms, it was him who put different animals into groups such as bears, cats, dogs, weasels, fish, etc. Originally the badger was placed into the Ursidae family (i.e. bears), but it is now clear that the badger is a true member of the weasel family. The weasel family is one of the most diverse familes within the larger order of carnivores.

Eurasian Badger

The British Badger is one of the better known badgers across the world. More correctly, the British Badger should be known as the European or Eurasian badger - because it lives in Europe and Asia (including in some parts of China and even Japan).

Meles meles

The Scientific name for a "British" badger is Meles meles (in the Melinae Sub-Family, part of the Mustelidae family - all members of a group of animals called the Carnivora). Although this would suggest that the badger is a carnivore, it is actually an omnivore (meaning that it eats both meat and plants).

Animals are given scientific names so that experts can put different species into related groups. For example:

  • Animals are classed as Mammals (part of the Mammalia class).

  • Within this, animals are divided into Carnivores (part of the Carnivora order of animals).

  • Within the Carnivores, animals are sub-divided again, into Mustelids (part of the Mustelidae Sub-family).

  • Once again the Mustelids are divided into the main Badgers Sub-family of Melinae.

  • The different species of true badger are then included within this Melinae Sub-family. One such species is the "British" (or Eurasian) badger, called Meles meles according to its latin Genus.

If these names seem strange, it is because when most species were first categorised by Carl Linnaeus, Latin was the language which was used for science in those days. Although, we use the term "Latin" names, the actual names may be based on Latin or Greek.

The other reason for using an agreed scientific name for an animal species, is that the same species may live in different countries and may have different names, based on different languages or different human history. The Eurasian badger (meles meles) is called a badger in the UK, but is called Blaireau or Beucher in France, Tejon in Spain, Texugo in Portugal, Mochyn Daear (from earth pig) in Welsh,

Weasel Family

Other animals in the Mustelids, include Weasels, Stoats, Polecats, Ferrets, Mink and Pine Martens. This may seem a bit surprising at first, because most weasel-like animals have long, thin bodies and long tails. Badgers (like Otters and Wolverines) look very different, with their short stocky bodies, short tails and short powerful legs (they look more like small bears). However, in common with other weasel-like animals, badgers have long strong claws on their front feet - though these are designed for digging, and not scampering through the tree-tops. Unlike many related species, the badger has a spine which is less flexible than species such as martens, polecats and wolverines.

Origin of Meles meles

The origin of Meles meles is not entirely certain. Even the most useful reference work on the subject is the Badgers (written by Ernest Neal and Chris Cheeseman) is a little sketchy.

This book suggests that primitive badger-forms existed as long ago as 4 million years - possibly coming from the Pliocene genus Melodon in China. The original Meles line then evolved from the temporate forests of Asia, spreading West into Europe.

The earliest fossil of the genus Meles is Thoral's badger (Meles Thorali) and was in France at Saint-Villier, near Lyons, and is perhaps 2 million years old. Other similar fossils were found in China, so this species was probably very widespread. By the early to middle Pleistocene, Europe was inhabited by badgers similar to the modern species. These are now referred to as the sub-species Meles meles atavus (Kormos).

The Tree

ClassOrderFamilySub-familyGenus a.k.a:
Class: Mammalia Mammals
Order: Carnivora Carnivores
Family: Mustelidae Mustelids
Sub-family: Melinae Badgers
Genus: Meles
Meles meles Eurasian badger
Genus: Taxidea
Taxidea taxus American badger
Genus: Arctonyx
Arctonyx collaris Hog Badger
Genus: Mydaus
Mydaus javanensis Indonesian stink badger
Mydaus marchei Palawan stink badger
Genus: Melogale
Melogale moschata Chinese ferret badger
Melogale personata Burmese ferret badger
Melogale everetti Everett's ferret badger
Sub-family: Mellivorinae Honey Badgers
Genus: Mellivora

Mellivora capensis The Honey Badger

NOTE: It should be seen from the above diagram, that Honey Badgers are not really badgers; as they are not part of the same sub-family as the "true badgers".

However, Honey Badgers are so similar in form and habits and share the same common name, so they are included here. It seems a shame to exclude them, as they are very nearly as cute as "our" British badger; and are persecuted in Africa.

Eurasian Badger Subspecies

We describe our badger as the Eurasian badger (Meles meles) because this is the name very commonly used in the various books about badgers; and the name used in the overwhelming majority of peer-review science journals. It is also the species that predominates over most of Europe. If you are being very pedantic, you should really say that there are likely to be a number of subspecies within the overall Meles meles species. These sub-species are still true badgers, but may have developed slightly different characteristics because the badgers in one region have been genetically isolated from other for very many generations.

  • The badger we see here in the UK might accurately be described as Meles meles meles.
  • The badger which lives on Crete is Meles meles arcalus (Cretan badger).
  • The badger which lives on Rhodes is Meles meles rhodius (Rhodes badger).
  • The badger which lives in south-west Norway is Meles meles milleri (Norwegian badger).
  • The badger which lives in Spain is Meles meles marianensis (Iberian badger).
  • The badger which lives in parts of the Russian steppes is Meles meles heptneri (Kizlyar badger).
  • The badger which lives in other parts of Russia, Turkmenia, Iran, Afghanistan and Asia Minor is Meles meles canascens (Trans-caucasian badger).
  • The badger which lives in other parts of Afghanistan, Tajikistan and the Pamirs is Meles meles severzovi (Fergana badger).
RSPB Spotlight on Badgers book
James Lowen explores the lives of badgers and their communal living, feeding habits and threats to their conservation. Click here to buy:
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