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"In September ... (Brocky) ... concentrated on getting fat for the winter months which were to come. ... He ate ravenously. It seemed impossible to satisfy him. At a sitting he could eat two pounds of mince! ... His weight increased from thirty to forty pounds!"
From Page 57 of Brocky the Badger by Sylvia Shepherd

Size

Recognition

Most badgers have a characteristic black and white striped face with small white-tipped ears and grey body, though their fur can become stained by the local soil.

The body appears grey, with black fur on its legs. In windy conditions, the fur may blow around in the wind, revealing the lighter underfur on the body. However, the colour of each hair varies on close inspection, and is not always grey. This can give rise to an odd-looking effect where the badger can appear to have stripes on the body when it is windy or when it walks or runs. These are not true stripes - this grizzled appearance happens because you see sections of the lighter-coloured underfur.

A few individuals are albino (creamy or off-white), and there are small populations of reddish/ginger (Erythristic) badgers in certain areas of Britain. Albino and Erythristic badgers have a harmless genetic difference to other badgers, but are otherwise exactly the same type of badger.

If you see no more than a quick glance of an animal which is about the size of a badger and it looks brown it might be a rare Erythristic badger or it could be a more common Muntjac (this is a small russet brown deer which stands roughly 44-52cm at the shoulder). See Muntjac Deer for more pictures.

Size

The badger is a stocky animal, being about 750mm in length (from head to tail), with a 150mm tail, once fully grown. A badger can have a height of up to about 300mm high at the shoulder.

The badger has a small head, a thick-set neck, a stocky wedge-shaped body and short tails. The limbs are short and massive - these ending in very powerful feet with naked pads and strong claws. The claws are not retractable. The front ones continually re-grow, but the back claws can wear down in older badgers.

The weight of an adult badger varies throughout the year - depending on how much fat it has laid down for the winter months. In spring an adult badger will have an average weight of 8 to 9 kg, rising to 11 to 12 kg in autumn. Occasionally individual specimens do weigh more than this, but these are generally the exception rather than the rule. Also, in territories which provide a poor food supply for the badgers, weights may be less than this.

In addition, adult males will generally tend to be about 1 kg heavier than females of the same age; and lactating females will be as much as 1 kg less than non-lactating females.

The badger has a massive elongated heavy skull which contains an oval-shaped brain case. They tend to have quite a narrow facial structure, although this appears wider due to the prominent jaw muscles. The top of the skull is protected by a sagittal crest - this bones is up to 15mm tall and acts to strengthen the skull to protect the brain casing when digging or when being attacked.

The male badger has a slightly broader head and looks a little more muscular than the female. Males tend to have a shorter blunt-looking muzzle too. Females tend to have a short bushy tail which is more rounded with less white on the top; whereas the males tend to have a thinner, whiter and more pointed tail.

Badgers have prominent teeth which are strongly suited to their omnivorous diet. Like many mustelids, they have small chisel-shaped incisors, prominent canines and non-specialized carnassials/pre-molars. Their molar teeth at the back of the mouth are more flattened and heavily adapted to grinding food.

Description

You can tell by its appearance that the badger is a digger.

The body is wedge-shaped and is carried on short but immensely strong legs - excellent for working in confined spaces. The muscles of the forelimbs and neck are particularly well developed. Digging is targeted at enlarging and improving its sett (this consists of several chambers where the badger sleeps and breeds). When enlarging a tunnel a badger will loosen the earth with rapid strokes of its forelimbs, and then use its claws as rakes.

Earth and stones may be ejected forcefully from the exit hole of a sett when a badger is digging! Indeed some of these stones may be quite large; and there may even be claw marks apparent on the surface of softer stones, such as some sandstones and chalks.

The badger is not designed to chase prey. In extreme cases it can gallop at up to 30km/hour for short distances; but it is not a species designed to run fast or for long distances. Its main type of movement is by ambling along slowly looking and sniffing for food, or by walking with a rolling bouncy trot. Many people find the badger quite comical when they see it walk; as it often seems to bounce along.

The badger is also a very tidy animal and spends a lot of time transporting grass, straw, moss or bracken to and from its sleeping chamber deep in the sett. Badgers can be very particular in the type of bedding material they gather. There are often examples of badgers having gathered bedding materials from over 100 metres away; when other materials were available nearby. They seem to know how and where to find the best bedding materials, rather than just the closest.

Setts are handed down like family houses from generation to generation, and the badger uses the same sett year after year.

If you come close to a badger in good light, you will see that it has whiskers on its face. These whiskers are quite stiff and stick up above each eye, and outwards from the sides of the snout. The whiskers have very sensitive nerve endings and are used to allow the badger to feel its way into tight spaces. It knows whether it can get its body through a small space by seeing if its whiskers bend when it tries to go through a small gap. Whiskers used in this way are technically called vibrissae.

Academic Notes:

Seasonal and local differences in the weight of European badgers (Meles meles L.) in relation to food supply.

Kruuk, H | Parish, T

Zeitschrift fuer Saeugetierkunde [Z. SAEUGETIERKD.]. Vol. 48, no. 1, pp. 45-50. 1983.

Studied were the weights of badgers Meles meles in the wild and in captivity. All animals were lighter in summer than in winter, despite the fact that captive badgers had food ad libitum. Captive badgers were heavier than wild ones, badgers from southern England were heavier than those from Scotland, and badgers from eastern Scotland heavier than those from the west. It is argued that the seasonal weight fluctuations occur independently of food supply, but differences between regions may be caused by food availability.