The Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis), also known as the Ratel, is a member of the Mustelidae family. It is found throughout most of Africa and western and southern Asian regions of
Baluchistan (eastern Iran), southern Iraq, Pakistan and Rajasthan (western India). Its natural habitat is arid grasslands and savannahs. It is the only species in genus Mellivora. It has been named the most fearless animal for several years in the Guinness Book of World Records.
The Honey Badgers is similar in size and build to the European Badger (Meles meles). It is heavily built, with a broad head, small eyes, and a blunt snout. Its total body length is 30 to 52 inches. The tail alone is up to 12 inches long. It stands 9 to 12 inches high at the shoulder. Adults vary in weight from 12 to 30 pounds. The sizes between the male and female is considerable. Males can weigh up to two times as much as the female. Females have a maximum weight of 22 pounds.
The Honey Badger is a fierce carnivore with a keen sense of smell. It is popularly known for its snake killing abilities. Adult honey badgers can devour an entire 5 foot snake in as little as 15 minutes. It also has a huge appetite for beehives, hence the name “˜honey’ badger. There have been cases of honey badgers being stung to death within hives they were trying to eat. Commercial honey producers do not take kindly to this destruction and will often shoot, trap, or poison honey badgers they suspect have damaged their hives. Some sources indicate that the honeyguide bird has a habit of leading honey badgers to bees’ nests. When the honey badger breaks into the nest, the bird will take its share too. Many sources disregard this statement and believe that honeyguides only guide humans to the hives.
The Honey Badger is among the fiercest hunters in its range. Its prey includes earthworms, termites, scorpions, porcupines, hares, tortoises, crocodiles (up to 40 inches), and snakes (including venomous snakes). Its ferocious reputation extends to attacks on animals much larger than itself. There is a case of a honey badger being bitten by a puff adder as it is eating it, and becomes paralyzed for about 5 minutes. Once the paralysis wears off, the badger continues with its meal and resumes it journey. The badger may even steal a snake’s kill and eats it for itself before continuing to hunt down the snake.
The Honey Badger will also dig into burrows of small rodents and flush them out for a small meal. The badger’s large front claws enable to dig into burrows effectively and most opportunities for a meal are successful. The one problem with this is that once it flushes out the meal, other predators and birds of prey may be in the area waiting to steal the kill from the Honey Badger. It is also very intelligent and is one of the few animals capable of using tools. In a 1997 documentary (Land of the Tiger), a honey badger rolled a log and stood on it to reach a kingfisher fledgling stuck up in the roots coming down from the ceiling in an underground cave.
The adult Honey Badger has few predators. Its ferocity and thick, loose skin makes it difficult for larger animals to grip or suffocate them. Leopards, lions, and large pythons are the only predators that rarely will attack a Honey Badger. An old, weak Honey Badger is more likely to fall prey to an attack, however it will defend itself vigorously. In one case, an old female honey badger that was blind in one eye and nearly toothless was attacked by a leopard. It took the leopard about one hour to kill the honey badger.
Courtship of the Honey Badger is very energetic. Once a female comes into heat, it will deliberate for days before accepting a male to mate with and the honey badgers will remain in the burrow for 3 to 4 days of mating. The female will give birth to a cub 2 months later. The cub relies on the mother for food and shelter as they regularly move and she digs new burrows. Cubs can make adults vulnerable while they are hunting, so they are often left behind at the burrow. This is dangerous for the cub, which is vulnerable to predators, including other honey badgers that will drag the cub out of the burrow and eat it. This cannibalistic practice is why only half of Honey Badgers make it to adulthood. As a cub grows, it is taught by the mother how to survive. The Honey Badger is not born with the vital skills it needs for survival. Once the cub is old enough to thrive on its own (about two months old), the mother will come back into heat and be ready to mate again.