Badge of courage

Hannah Swamidoss Dharmaraj

Unusual colouring... honey badger

Unusual colouring... honey badger  

Can you think of one word that (a) refers to a burrowing mammal (b) could mean to harry, pester or harass, or (c) as slang refers to a native of Wisconsin? "Badger" of course! A badger is a short stout mammal with powerful front claws for digging and has a striking black and white face. To badger someone would mean that you are constantly doing something to a person that probably annoys him or her. Wisconsin is known as the "Badger State", and a native of Wisconsin may, in fun, be called a badger.

The word "badger" is first recorded in 1523. Linguists think that it may be linked to the white and black markings on a badger's head. The striking markings and the badger's courage in defending itself could have led people to think in terms of a knightly "badge." "Brock" is a British word that refers to badgers and it is thought to have a Celtic origin.

Badgers belong to the weasel family, which includes ratels, martens, minks, wolverines, skunks and otters. There are eight species of badgers. The Eurasian badger is found throughout Europe and northern Asia. The tunnels that these badgers dig are usually known as setts. Some setts are known to be over a 100 years old and can have as many as 100 entrance holes! Usually many generations of badgers have lived in these setts.

The Hog badger found in South East Asia is more similar to the Eurasian badger. It digs deep burrows but also uses natural holes as dens. Hog badgers tend to feed on worms, roots and fruits. There are three species of Ferret badgers all found in South East Asia. Ferret Badgers are smaller than other badgers and are slimmer with longer tails. They sleep in trees or natural holes and do not dig their own dens. There are two types of Stink Badgers, one is found in Indonesia and the other in Palawan. True to their name, Stink badgers can squirt a strong smelling liquid that they use as protection from enemies.

The ratel is not considered a true badger although it is very similar to badgers. Ratels are found in India and Africa. Their colouring is unusual because they have a lighter colour on top and black fur below although some ratels in Africa are all black. Ratels hunt by night and eat insects, frogs, snakes, birds and rats. Sometimes because of their fondness for honey, ratels are called Honey Badgers. Ratels usually have several dens and sometimes live in groups.

Does a badger have enemies? Badgers are fierce when they are cornered. Apart from their claws and teeth their thick fur and tough skin also protects them. However some larger animals like foxes, eagles and buzzard prey on cubs. Stink badgers are usually left alone but the Javan hawk-eagle does prey on them.

Badgers have often made appearances in children's books. Hufflepuff in the Harry Potter books has a badger as its emblem. There are talking badgers in the Chronicles of Narnia. Beatrix Potter has a badger that steals Benjamin Rabbit's babies. In the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, there are several badger heroes. In Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, Mr. Badger is tough and imposing but also a wise creature.

Whether in fiction or fact, badgers are fascinating creatures. Try exploring the world of the badger!

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