The European badger (Meles meles) also known as the Eurasian Badger, is a species of badger indigenous to much of Europe (excluding northern Scandinavia, Iceland, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and Cyprus). It is also found in many parts of Asia, from about 15Â° to 65Â° North, and from about 10Â° West to 135Â° East. It is related to stoats, otters, weasels, minks, and other badgers. There are 5 subspecies.
The fur is gray above and black on the underside with a unique black-and-white striped face and white-tipped ears. They grow to about 27.5 inches long with close to an 8 inch tail. Its weight is 22 pounds on average, although they can vary in weight enormously. Since badgers do not hibernate, they put on fat in autumn to help them get through the winter months. In parts of Russia, badgers have been reported to weigh up to 93 pounds in the late autumn.
Though the European badger is classified as a carnivore, it is more effectively an omnivore and an insectivore. Most of their diet consists of earthworms, insects, and beetles, although it will also eat small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, eggs, young birds, berries, roots, bulbs, nuts, fruit, and other plant matter, depending on the season. It also digs up the nests of wasps and bumblebees in order to eat the larvae. The badger prefers grazed pasture and woodland, which have high numbers of earthworms exposed, and dislike clay soil, which is difficult to dig even with their powerful claws. In urban areas, some badgers scavenge food from bins and gardens.
The badger is nocturnal and spend the day in extensive networks of tunnels dug in well-drained grounds, and sometimes beneath buildings and roads. It is a territorial and is commonly found in groups (clans). These clans vary in size and can have from 2 to 12 individuals. Each clan has one dominant male and female that are often the only members of the clan to reproduce. Females can display delayed implantation. After mating, it keeps the fertilized eggs in suspended development until the appropriate time, at which stage the eggs are implanted and begin developing. Gestation lasts between 7 to 8 weeks and 1 to 5 young are born. Males are called boars and females sows. The young are cubs. Badgers have a lifespan of 3 to 15 years in the wild, and up to 19 years in captivity. The most common cause of death is road traffic.
A sport called Badger Baiting, has been practiced since the Middle Ages in Europe. It consists of a badger being attacked by a succession of dogs, usually accompanied with heavy gambling. When the badger is no longer able to fight, it is killed. Badger digging is the process of sending dogs down tunnels of a badger hole in order to locate the animal, after which the diggers try to dig down to the badger. Dachshunds were originally bred for this purpose. Although illegal since 1835, badger baiting is believed to continue today. Badger digging was outlawed in 1973. Under the Protection of Badgers Act of 1992 it is an offence to kill a badger or to interfere with a sett (burrow) without a license from
British farmers and successive governments have long believed that bovine TB was being spread by badgers and infecting the national dairy herd, and since the 1970s badgers have been culled by gassing (now ceased) and shooting in attempts to prevent this spread. The badger is susceptible to Baylisascaris infestations. It can catch and carry rabies.