European Badger (Meles meles)

Brief background:
in summer – 7-13 kg, in autumn – up to 20 kg and more
Length: 60-90 cm; tail – ~ 20 cm; at withers: 60-75 cm (males are larger than females)
Sexual maturity age: males ~ 3 years | females 2 years of age
Mating period: late March-May, sometimes also June
Gestation period: 271-376 days (including 5-6 month long latent period)
Number of offspring: 1-6, most commonly 2-3, born in late March-April
Lifespan: up to 15 years
Natural predators: wolves, lynx, stray dogs. Competitors for food base and burrows – raccoon dogs and foxes
Status of the species in Latvia: A comparatively widely distributed and commonly occurring species throughout the entire territory of Latvia. According to the data of the Central Statistical Bureau for 2019, the population of badgers in Latvia reaches approximately 15,500 individuals.

Where do they live? Badgers prefer certain habitats that they select in advance – most commonly located in mixed and coniferous (less commonly - deciduous) forests, with moist valleys, mossy marshlands and water bodies nearby. For their burrows, they select light sand, sandy loam or (less frequently) peat soils on a strong base with a low groundwater table. Badgers are extremely tidy animals – they not only keep their burrows always clean and wipe their feet before entering their homes, but design tidy personal toilet holes and always bury their faeces.

How do they live? Badgers are nocturnal burrow diggers and social family animals, who jointly dwell in extensively large burrow systems. The longest burrow labyrinths could even be several dozens of metres long with multiple entrances and exits. The burrows inhabited by badgers do not smell, because badgers are very tidy animals. If you can smell a strong unpleasant smell at an entrance to a badger burrow, it is most probably inhabited by foxes or raccoon dogs. These canines love occupying ready and well maintained burrows – for instance, badger burrows. It can even be the case that at one side of the labyrinth a badger family lives, while at the other side of it - a fox family. However, it is more common for lazy diggers to occupy badger burrows that have already been abandoned.

In late summer, when the autumn approaches, badgers adapt their burrows for winter. They remove all old litter from the burrow and fill it with fresh, dry grass and moss. Then all entrances and exits from the burrow system are sealed with sand and the last ones are sealed directly before hibernation.

Badgers are naturally very cautious and elusive animals. They have excellent olfaction and very good hearing. Their vision is less developed. Badgers select their mate for a long time and live happily together for several years. Pretty soon after the birth of cubs in spring, the new mother is again impregnated. These cubs will only be born one year later – after a long pregnancy period, since during the cold months of the year the female badgers will be hibernating and the development of the foetus will have stopped. This latent or “empty” period of pregnancy helps prevent the cubs from being born in winter.

Badger cubs are born blind and deaf – their eyes only open on day 37 of their life. The cubs feed on milk for the first three months. Then the young offspring start following their mothers during their hunts and learn to fill their empty tummies themselves. However, the little badger cubs start poking their small curious noses out of the burrows in about the second month of their life. They are very playful and frequently engage in cheerful games in front of the entrance to the burrow. The family keeps together until autumn, when the young leave their native burrows to spend the winter separately.

Badger do not have typical hibernation. They accumulate the layer of fat in autumn, that is true, and do not lead an active life from October until April, however, on warmer days they can be spotted walking around pretty often.

What do they eat? Although this animal of the weasel (Mustelid) family is categorised as a predator, they are actually proper omnivores. Badgers enjoy various invertebrates living in the topsoil, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds nesting on the ground and their eggs, small mammals, nuts, acorns, berries, fruit, mushrooms and plant-based food. Badgers are also well known for having a sweet tooth – one of their favourite sweets is honey.

Did you know?

  • Badgers belong to the mustelid or weasel family and are close relatives of otters, wolverines, weasels, stoats, polecats and minks.
  • European badger has eight subspecies.
  • Badgers are good swimmers and love playing in water on hot summer days.
  • The black and white stripes on the head and muzzle of badgers could serve as a sign of recognition and warning to others – to signify that badgers, like skunks have scent glands. They are used to mark the territory and other members of the family or clan.
  • Like humans, badgers are plantigrades - while walking, they use the whole sole of the foot as support.
  • Despite their clumsy look, badgers are very strong animals, with sharp teeth and a firm bite. While hunting with dogs, for instance, badgers mainly come out as winners in a fight with dogs and dogs can be seriously injured.
  • Typical badger behaviour includes frequent scratching and flea hunting. This is due to the fact that badgers have large amounts of multiple ectoparasites – fleas, mites, ticks, lice, etc.
  • Badgers play a significant role in the forest ecosystem. Their burrowing and digging behaviour in search of food promotes the turnover and transformation of organic substances, improves moisture and ventilation parameters of soil, as well as results in the elimination of various pests, for instance, larvae of cockchafer beetles, pine-tree lappets, pine beauty and many others.
  • Badgers are mostly hunted for their valuable fat, which is used in traditional medicine for the treatment of various ailments (for instance, respiratory disorders). In Scotland, badger skin was used to make sporrans or special leather bags for the storage of various items, while badger fur – to make shaving brushes.

There is one badger at Līgatne Nature Trails.