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Honey Badger (Ratel)

Appearance

Honey badgers are coloured black on the underside and the tail. The crown of their head and in a band along the back is coloured silver-grey.  The cottoni subspecies of honey badger is coloured entirely black. Their nose is brown. Some subspecies have a white line separating the light-grey upper body from the black underside.

Their tail is fluffy and may measure 12-30cm (4.7-11.8in) long.

Their skin is incredibly thick being up to 6mm (0.24in) around the neck. This adaptation helps in defense against predators. It is also loose which allows them to twist a predator off.

Their feet have hairless pads. Their claws measure up to 38mm (1.5in) long but are blunt.

In winter their fur may measure up to 50mm (2in) long but they lack an undercoat. Around the flank, belly and groin hair is sparse. During summer this will reduce to just 15mm (0.6in) long and there is no fur on half the belly for this time.

Females are about two thirds the size of males. Their head and body averages 63.6cm (2.1ft) long while males are 72.4cm (2.4ft) long. On average females weigh 6.2kg (13.7lb) while males are 9.4kg (20.7lb).

Diet

Honey badgers are omnivores. They feed upon insects, frogs, rodents, tortoises, turtles, lizards, snakes, including venomous ones, eggs, birds and of course honey. In the wild the herbivorous portion of their diet is composed solely of tsama melon. In captivity they may eat a few other varieties of fruit.

On occasion they have been seen to take carrion from larger animals such as brown hyena, black backed jackals and the African wildcat.

Honey badger

Scientific Name

Mellivora capensis

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Weight

Male

9.4kg (20.7lbs)

Female

6.2kg (13.7lbs)

Length

Male

72.4cm (2.4ft)

Female

63.6cm (2.1ft)

Lifespan

Wild 9 years

Captive 26 years

Record 30 years

Diet

Omnivorous

Range

Africa and Asia provide a home for the honey badger. Here they can be found throughout India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, the Arabian Peninsula, Western and Southern Africa.

Habitat

They can be found in most habitat types including grasslands, rainforests, moist deciduous forest, desert outskirts and mountains. They will avoid areas where the rainfall is too heavy.

Honey badgers will dig a burrow in which they can live or occupy one belonging to another species such as the warthog, cape fox, bat-eared fox, yellow mongoose, porcupine or aardvark. They may also make use of a disused termite mound.

Reproduction

Breeding may take place year round. Males will fight for permission to mate with the female. They will pivot tumble and roll then stand tall and stiff legged to fight each other. The loser will place their head and body low with their tail held low.

The winner will follow a scent trail helping him to find a female’s den which he will enter. Once a female submits she presents herself to the male. A pair will then stay together for between 1 and 3 days with the male occasionally blocking a female from leaving her den during this time. To keep other males from entering he may collapse the den in to trap them. Both will mate with different partners though.

After 50-70 days the female will normally give birth to one cub in her den. Young are born nearly hairless and with its eyes closed. On incredibly rare occasions in captivity twins have been observed but that has not been seen in the wild. Males play no part in the care of the cubs.

By one week old the skin is already changing from pink to grey and by two weeks their hair is starting to come through. Within another week the white strip becomes visible down their neck.

At 2-3 months old they are weaned off milk and start to forage with their mum. At 6-8 months old females reach adult size and males are bigger than their mum. It takes 12-16 months for them to become independent. By 12 months old they start to hunt.

Just before sexual maturity at 2-3 years old they disperse to form their own range. Females will travel a larger distance than males.

Behavior

This species is mainly nocturnal. Activity peaks early in the morning and between midafternoon and late at night.

The vocalization made by a honey badger is a ‘khyra-ya-ya-ya’ sound or a growl. Males grunt when mating and cubs make a whining noise.

Honey badgers are solitary creatures but it is no uncommon for their ranges to overlap. They occasionally congregate at a favorite foraging area. Their territory is marked using their foul scent.

When confronted the honey badger is able to shake animals off them due to their loose skin. They can also turn around and bite attackers due to the flexibility of their skin. A gland at the back of the animal also emits a foul odor to scare away predators.

Their skin is resistant to dog bite and porcupine quills. There is also evidence that they are resistant to some snake venoms.

Due to these powers of defense they are only preyed upon by lions, leopards and spotted hyenas. Black baked jackals will also prey upon the cubs.

This species is incredibly intelligent and is one of the few species who have been observed using tools. This includes rolling a log up to a spot that made it easier to reach a bird and assembling sticks, a rake, stones and mud in a way that allowed them to escape from a pit.

They take sand baths where sand is flicked onto their flanks and back.

Quick facts

A viral video known as Nastyass Honey Badger was produced showing the honey badger fighting jackals, invading beehives and eating cobras that has had 68 million views by mid-2014.

The honey badger is also known as the ratel.

Photo Credits

By en:User:Jaganath [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

References

Do Linh San, E., Begg, C., Begg, K. & Abramov, A.V. 2016. Mellivora capensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T41629A45210107. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T41629A45210107.en. Downloaded on 16 May 2020.

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