American Badger

Taxidea taxus

badgergc.jpg

Photo of badger
Strong, sharp-clawed badgers can dig a hole and disappear underground in less than a minute.
Glenn Chambers
Species of Conservation Concern
Family

Mustelidae (weasels) in the order Carnivora

Description

The American badger is a heavy-bodied, medium-sized mammal with a broad head, short neck, short legs, and a short bushy tail. The ears are low and rounded. The claws, generally gray with a slight yellowish tinge, on the front feet are very long. The brown face is marked with a white stripe, white patches, and vertical black bars. Males and females look alike, although males are heavier.

Size

Total length: 26–35 inches; tail length: 4–7 inches; weight: 13–30 pounds

FG-0022_Badger.mp4

Video footage of a wild badger in Missouri grassland habitat

Badger

Badger crawls through grass
Listen the sounds a wild badger makes.
Habitat and conservation

Badgers live in open areas such as prairies and other open grasslands, where ground squirrels and other burrowing animals, their principal foods, abound. They also occur in croplands, the sand prairies of southeastern Missouri, plus fields, pastures, yards around homes, parklands, and farms. Access to a good supply of rodents is important. They find shelter along roadways, fence rows, ditches, banks, and field edges. Because of their uncommon status in Missouri and a regulated harvest, badgers need no general management in Missouri. If you are experiencing problems with badgers, contact a wildlife professional for advice, assistance, regulations, or special conditions for handling these animals.

Foods

Badgers eat rodents such as ground squirrels and mice. They also eat rabbits, insects, lizards, snakes, and eggs of birds and turtles. In the western United States, extensive poisoning campaigns for burrowing rodents reduced or eliminated the food supply for badgers and are one reason badger numbers are somewhat reduced in western states.

image of Badger Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Sparse across most of the state. Most common in the Central Dissected Till Plains (in northern Missouri) and Osage Plains (in western Missouri).

Status

In Missouri, the American badger is a Species and Communities of Conservation Concern, listed as "vulnerable to extirpation" because of its restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, and/or other factors. Badgers are occasionally trapped, but their fur is not valuable, so most trappers do not target them.

Life cycle

Badgers have a home range of 1 to 2½ square miles. They dig a series of dens across their home range. They are most active at night. During winter, they become less active, occasionally leaving their burrows to hunt for food. They are excellent diggers and dig faster than their burrowing prey. The usual "home" burrows are shallow and about 1 foot in diameter. During breeding season, the burrows are deeper and longer. Badgers can move quickly, up to 15 miles per hour, and are capable swimmers. They mate in late summer and give birth in early spring. The young stay with their mothers through the summer.

Human connections

Badgers control rodent pests, and their digging activities aerate and improve the soil. Their digging usually represents a search for some other animal that has already burrowed into the ground. Where they are numerous (in states to our west), they can cause problems with their digging activities, and they occasionally prey on livestock or poultry. These are generally not problems in Missouri, where badgers are so uncommon. Humans are the largest predator on badgers. Badger fur has been used to make coats and hats and to trim cloth coats. Formerly, the fur was used in making shaving brushes, and the tough hide was made into rugs.

Ecosystem connections

Badgers control rodent and rabbit populations, and their digging activities aerate and mix the soil. Coyotes, dogs, and bobcats may take the young of badgers, and bears and mountain lions are known to kill badgers. In the western part of their range, single badgers and coyotes have been reported as sometimes hunting together. The coyote pounces upon a rodent that has eluded the badger's digging, while the coyote's presence at various burrow entrances increases the badger's success by preventing the escape of weary ground squirrels. Hawks have also been observed to follow a badger, presumably on the alert for some escaping rodent.

Signs & Tracks

Front track:

  • 3½ inches long, 2 inches wide
  • 5 toes, claws often showing.

Hind track:

  • 1 7/8 to 2 3/4 inches long
  • 5 toes; claws rarely show.

Other notes:

  • Badgers are uncommon in Missouri; they are most likely to be seen in northern and western parts of the state, and counties that border the Missouri River. They are rare in the Ozarks.
  • They are nomadic.
  • They are busy diggers and often leave chaotic-looking tracks and digging marks.
  • The heel pads seldom show.
  • Tracks often turn inward (as if walking pigeon-toed).
  • Hind tracks are positioned just in front of the front tracks.
  • Distance between strides is 6–12 inches (varies considerably).
Illustration of American badger tracks