Honey Badger

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Honey badger
Temporal range: middle Pliocene - Recent
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Mustelidae
Subfamily: Mellivorinae
Genus: Mellivora
Storr, 1780
Species: M. capensis
Geographic distribution

The honey badger (Mellivora capensis), also known as the ratel, is a type of mustelid that lives in Africa, the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent. Despite its name, the honey badger does not look much like other types of badgers. It looks more like a weasel. It mostly eats meat, and does not have many predators because of its thick skin and tough defensive abilities.

Taxonomy[change | edit source]

The honey badger is the only member of the genus Mellivora. Although it was first put to the badger group in the 1860s, it is now generally thought that they do not have much in common with the subfamily Melinae, and are instead closer to the marten family.

Physical description[change | edit source]

The honey badger has a fairly long body, but is thick set and broad across the back. Its skin is loose, and lets it to turn and twist freely within it.[2] The skin around the neck is 6 millimetres (0.24 in) thick, an adaptation to fighting conspecifics.[3] The head is small and flat, with a short muzzle. The eyes are small, and the ears are little more than ridges on the skin,[2] another possible adaptation to avoiding damage while fighting.[3]

The honey badger has short and sturdy legs, with five toes on each foot. The feethave very strong claws, which are short on the hind legs and very long on the forelimbs. It is a partially plantigrade animal whose soles are thickly padded and naked up to the wrists. The tail is short and is covered in long hairs, except below the base.

Adults are 23 to 28 centimetres (9.1 to 11.0 in) in shoulder height and 68–75 cm in body length, with females being smaller than males.[2] Males weigh 12 to 16 kilograms (26 to 35 lb) while females weigh 9.1 kg. Skull length is 13.9-14.5 cm in males and 13 cm for females.[4]

There are two pairs of mammae.[5] The honey badger has an anal pouch which, unusually among mustelids, is reversible, a trait shared with hyenas. The smell of the pouch is said to be "suffocating", and may help calm bees when raiding beehives.[6]

The skull does not have much in common with that of the European badger, and looks like a larger version of a marbled polecat skull.[7] The skull is very solidly built, with that of adults having no independent bone structure. The braincase is broader than that of dogs.

A honey badger's teeth can be very different. Some teeth can be very small, at unusual angles, or even missing. Honey badgers of the subspecies signata have a second lowar molar on the left side of their jaw, but not the right. Although it mostly chews soft food, the honey badger's cheek teeth are often very worn. The canine teeth are very short for carnivores.[8] The tongue has sharp, backward-pointing papillae which help it in processing tough foods.[9]

The winter fur is long (being 40–50 mm long on the lower back), and is made up of some coarse, bristle-like hairs lacking underfur. There are even fewer hairs on the side, belly and groin. The summer fur is shorter (being only 15 mm long on the back) and has even fewer hairs, with the belly being half bare. The sides of the heads and lower body are pure black in colour. A large white band covers their upper bodies, beginning from the top of their heads down to the base of their tails.[10] Honey badgers of the cottoni subspecies are unique in being completely black in colour.

Behavior[change | edit source]

Habits[change | edit source]

Black ratel (M. c. cottoni)

Although mostly solitary, honey badgers may hunt together in pairs during the May breeding season.[9] Little is known of the honey badger's breeding habits. It is thought that its gestation period lasts six months, usually resulting in two cubs, which are born blind. They vocalise through whines. Their lifespan in the wild is unknown, though captive individuals have been known to live for approximately 24 years.

Honey badgers live alone in self-dug holes. They are good diggers, being able to dig tunnels into hard ground in 10 minutes. These burrows always only have one passage and a nesting chamber and are usually not large, being only 1–3 metres in length. They do not place bedding into the nesting chamber.[11] Although they usually dig their own burrows, they may take over aardvark and warthog holes that are no longer being used, or termite mounds.[9]

Honey badgers are smart animals and are one of few species able to use tools. In the 1997 documentary series Land of the Tiger, a honey badger in India was filmed using a tool; the animal rolled a log and stood on it to reach a kingfisher fledgling stuck up in the roots coming from the ceiling in an underground cave.[12]

Honey badgers are fearless and tough animals, having been known to savagely attack their enemies when they cannot escape. They are tireless in combat and can wear out much larger animals in fights.[8] The fact that most predators do not want to hunt honey badgers has led to the theory that the countershaded coats of cheetah kittens evolved to look like the honey badger in order to keep predators away.[13] This would be an example of mimicry.

The voice of the honey badger is a hoarse "khrya-ya-ya-ya" sound. When mating, males make loud grunting sounds.[14] Cubs vocalise through whines. When attacked by dogs, honey badgers scream like bear cubs.[15]

Diet[change | edit source]

Honey badgers have the least specialised diet among mustelids.[3] In undeveloped areas, honey badgers may hunt at any time of the day, though they become nocturnal in places with high human populations. When hunting, honey badgers trot with their fore-toes turned in, moving at the same speed as a young man. Despite their name, honey badgers mostly eat meat, and will take any sort of animal food at hand, including carrion, small rodents, birds, eggs, insects, lizards, tortoises and frogs. They will eat fruit and vegetables such as berries, roots and bulbs.[9]

They may hunt frogs and rodents such as gerbils and ground squirrels by digging them out of their burrows. Honey badgers are able to feed on tortoises without difficulty, due to their powerful jaws. They kill and eat snakes, even highly venomous or large ones. They have dug up human corpses in India.[16] They devour all parts of their prey, including skin, hair, feathers, flesh and bones, holding their food down with their forepaws.[17] When seeking vegetable food, they lift stones or tear bark from trees.[9]

Range[change | edit source]

The species can be found through most of Sub-Saharan Africa from the Western Cape, South Africa, to southern Morocco and southwestern Algeria and outside Africa through Arabia, Iran and western Asia to Turkmenistan and the Indian Peninsula. It is known to range from sea level to as much as 2,600 m asl in the Moroccan High Atlas and 4,000 m asl in Ethiopia's Bale Mountains.[1]

Relationships with humans[change | edit source]

Honey badgers often kill chickens that humans are raising for food. Because of their strength and persistance, they are difficult to keep away. They are known to rip thick planks from hen-houses or burrow underneath stone foundations.

Because of the toughness and looseness of their skin, honey badgers are very difficult to kill with dogs. Their skin is hard to go through, and its looseness allows them to twist and turn on their attackers when held. The only safe grip on a honey badger is on the back of the neck. The skin is also tough enough to resist several machete blows. The only sure way of killing them quickly is through a blow to the skull with a club or a shot to the head with a powerful rifle, as their skin is almost impervious to arrows and spears.[18]

References[change | edit source]

Notes[change | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Begg, K., Begg, C. & Abramov, A. (2008). Mellivora capensis. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2008. Retrieved on 21 March 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of least concern
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Rosevear 1974, p. 113
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Kingdon 1989, p. 87
  4. Heptner & Sludskii 2002, pp. 1216–1217
  5. Pocock 1941, p. 456
  6. Kingdon 1989, p. 89
  7. Pocock 1941, p. 1214
  8. 8.0 8.1 Rosevear 1974, pp. 114–16
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Rosevear 1974, pp. 117–18
  10. Heptner & Sludskii 2002, p. 1213
  11. Heptner & Sludskii 2002, p. 1225
  12. India Land of the Tiger பாகம் 4 - ஆங்கிலம்
  13. EATON, R. L. 1976. A possible case of mimicry in larger mammals. Evolution 30:853–856.
  14. Heptner & Sludskii 2002, p. 1228
  15. Pocock 1941, p. 465
  16. Pocock 1941, p. 464
  17. Rosevear 1974, p. 120
  18. Rosevear 1974, p. 116

Bibliography[change | edit source]

Other websites[change | edit source]

  • Vanderhaar, Jane M. ; Hwang, Yeen Ten, Mellivora capensis, Published 30 July 2003 by the American Society of Mammalogists