American badger (Taxidea taxus)
This week’s crawly falls under the heading of “What’s not to love?” Meet the American badger (Taxidea taxus).
While most Oregonian badgers live in Eastern Oregon, there are some in our own backyard in Eastern Jackson County.
That said, American badgers are mostly active at night so getting to see one is a treat. To be clear, it’s a treat that must be appreciated from a safe distance.
If threatened, American badgers attack explosively with hissing, growling and biting. They’ll take on any potential predator, including mountain lions, and most often escape. They are not to be trifled with.
American badgers are practically perfect in every way, ideally suited to their menu choices and habitat.
While badgers are related to skunks and weasels, they have their own unique body type. That type is “flat.” So very flat. They are built for digging and killing. They’re excellent at both. In addition to their very nearly two-dimensional profile, they have triangle-shaped heads sporting small, rounded ears. Their paws have webbing between the toes and razor-sharp claws that make quick work of digging in the loose substrate they favor.
American badgers dig their own dens and dig into the dens of their prey.
They are solitary animals and will dig a few dens – called “setts” – around their territory. Each den will be up to 10 feet underground with just over 30 feet of tunnels. Tunnels end at several burrows, each used for a specific purpose: sleeping, hunting, storing food and for the females, giving birth.
Unless they are tending to babies, American badgers will spend some time in each one of their dens throughout the day. So your best chance to see a badger would be while they were trekking from one den to another. Sometimes females with babies are out and about during the day because they’re caring for their young at night.
Speaking of babies, American badgers also have a wicked cool reproductive process. They mate in late summer, but females will delay the implantation of their fetuses until late winter. This way when the babies are born, there will be more food available for them during their formative months.
So, what’s on the menu for American badger babies and adults?
I’ll take “Things that burrow for $100, Alex!” Ground squirrels, rats, gophers and mice make up most of the badger’s diet. In a pinch they’ll eat arthropods, birds and reptiles as well, but they prefer a meal they can dig up.
They’ll use those paws and claws to dig prey out of their den. Alternatively, they’ll dig into a small mammal’s burrow, settle down and wait for dinner to come back to them.
Opportunistic coyotes will often follow badgers and hunker down outside the den being dug, ready to snatch any prey that makes a break for it.
American Badgers are most active during warmer months. While they don’t hibernate in winter, they will spend especially cold days in a torpor state, snug in the sleeping burrow of their den.
Fun facts: American badgers can dig up to three feet per minute, those webbed toes acting like shovels. They have between one and five babies per litter. They can live over 30 years in captivity. They eat rattlesnakes and have some natural immunity to their venom.
What’s not to love?