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IUCN status
LC
Scientific name
Meles meles
Order
Carnivora
Family
Mustelidae
Habitat
Woodland

Once a common sight in the British countryside, the badger faces a complex challenge. Badgers can carry and spread a disease called Bovine tuberculosis which poses a significant threat to British cattle herds.

In 2011, badger culling was introduced as a method to try and control the spread of infection, However the effectiveness of badger culling is a highly debated topic. Our experts have found that culling has pushed badgers to roam further away from their original territory, potentially increasing the spread of the disease.  We're working to find alternative solutions to stop the transmission of the disease, by supporting our work and research you can help to keep these iconic animals a part of our native woodland ecosystem and bring a better balance back to the countries biodiversity. 

11 badger facts

What do badgers eat? What sound does a badger make? And do badgers hibernate? Get the lowdown on these iconic stripy-faced mammals with our surprising badger facts! 

1. The badger is the largest predator in the UK

The European badger (Meles meles) is a stocky, short-legged member of the mustelid family, which also includes weasels, otters and wolverines. Weighing in at around 8-12kg, and reaching around 90cm in length, it is the UK’s biggest living land predator.

two young badgers scavenging for bugs
Badger walking through a muddy forest

2. The European badger is unusually social

European badgers are the most social badger species, living in groups that share a territory and one or more underground burrows (known as setts). The collective noun for badgers is a clan or cete. A typical clan of badgers in the UK includes four to seven animals, although groups as large as 23 have been recorded. 

3.  Badger setts are impressively roomy

A badger group may live in the same sett for many generations. Some badger setts include complex tunnel systems with multiple entrances. One badger sett in the Cotswolds was found to have tunnels reaching around 310m in length!

badger drinking water from a stream
young badgers exploring a grassy field

4. Badgers are surprisingly tidy

Badgers regularly clean out sleeping areas in their setts to remove old bedding materials, such as hay and dead leaves. This helps to reduce pesky fleas and lice! Badgers also spend plenty of time grooming themselves, and each other. If a badger is grooming another badger, they’ll helpfully concentrate on areas that are hard to reach when self-grooming.

5. Up to half of England’s badgers have been culled since 2013

More than 210,000 badgers have been legally killed in England over the space of a decade in an attempt to curb the spread of a lethal disease, bovine tuberculosis, between badgers and cattle. We’ve long been working to find more humane and evidence-based ways to tackle the disease and, together with our partners, we’re leading the way on this with our badger vaccination project in Cornwall.

6.  Badger diet is worm-heavy!

Although badgers eat a variety of foods, up to 80% of a typical badger diet consists of earthworms. A single badger can slurp up as many as 200 worms a night! They also feed on other invertebrates (such as slugs), fruit, seeds, berries and even small vertebrates, including voles, rabbits and hedgehogs. But badgers rarely eat bigger animals if earthworms are available.

7. Badger births are timed for spring

Badger courtship and mating can occur year-round, but thanks to a process called delayed implantation, most badger embryos do not start developing in the womb until December or January, ensuring that cubs are born between late January and March. Litters include between one and five badger cubs, who’ll remain sheltered underground, dependent on mum, until around April.

ZSL Badger conservation

two young badgers scavenging for bugs

Why are badgers being culled?

Get the facts about badger culling from our wildlife health experts.

8.  There are numerous different badger calls

One study identified as many as 16 badger calls used in social interactions, including warning barks, defensive growls and snorts of surprise. Other badger calls include a churr – a throaty vibration that may be a mating call. A badger purr is similar but softer, and used by female badgers when summoning, grooming or carrying offspring. Cubs have their own calls, including clucks (used during greeting, grooming and play), wails (used if in distress) and coos (used in close contact with others).

Scent also plays a key role in badger communications, with individuals using scent glands to mark their territory, and even other badgers!

two badger sleeping curled up next to each other
badger coming out of its set

9. A badger footprint is pretty distinctive

Mostly active at night-time, dawn or dusk, badgers can be tricky to spot – but one clue to their presence is badger footprints. A badger footprint has a broad rear foot pad around 6.5cm wide, with five separate toe pads in front (although the fifth toe doesn’t always leave a print), and long claw marks. 

10. Badger hibernation is a myth

People often think badgers hibernate – but rather than going into a deep sleep for the whole winter, badgers enter a period of torpor, or lethargy, when they may sleep for days or weeks at a time. During torpor, their body temperature decreases, to use less energy, and they live off fat reserves built up during the autumn when food is plentiful.

11. Badger stripes may be a warning

Badgers are instantly recognisable from their black-and-white striped faces. No one knows exactly why badgers have stripes, but one theory is that they’re a warning signal to potential predators that badgers are powerful and not to be messed with!

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