Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Grand Old Badger

By: Lacy Sellent, Writing Fellow at the Cable Natural History Museum

It was early in the morning.  The dew still clung to the grass as I ran down our deserted country road.    I was concentrating on my breathing, and just putting one foot in front of the other, when I came upon it.  I don’t know how long it had been sitting there, but by the time I saw it, it was less than ten feet away.  I jumped sideways as I saw it looking at me with intimidating eyes.  It growled.  I froze.  I wasn’t sure what to do but I decided I needed to do something.  I flung my arms into the air and began yelling and flailing like some kind of crazy person.  It worked.  The badger seemed to stare me down for a few seconds; then he turned and ran.  Like with any wild animal, it needed space.  It was a rare and exciting chance encounter, but I would rather have seen him from a safer distance.

Although badgers are known as aggressive fighters, they are more likely to flee if given the opportunity.  If a badger is confronted near a hole, the badger will quickly burrow into it—all the while flinging dirt at its foe.  It may also release a strong musty smell in hopes of stinking out the assailant.  If a badger does happen to be grabbed by a predator (such as a coyote), its fur is so thick and its skin is so loose that the badger is able to turn on its attacker and fight back.  Claws that aid the badger in burrowing can also be turned into powerful weapons.  When cornered, the badger earns its fierce reputation.

For the most part, badgers don’t have to worry about predators.  An eagle may grab a small one, but not many animals are willing to take on this thirty-pound fighter.  Badgers are part of the weasel family and therefore are related to another aggressive fighter—the wolverine.  Unlike the wolverine, badgers typically prey on smaller animals and are more likely to dig up a burrowed animal than to chase one down.   Sometimes, after the badger digs up its burrowed prey, it decides to inhabit the old burrow.  Now that’s efficient!

The American badger (Taxidea taxus) is a mammal that uses burrows for just about everything.  Burrows are good for protection, shelter, food storage, and raising young.  A burrow can be over twenty feet in length but may have an entrance that’s not even one foot wide.  The burrow has a mound of dirt outside, and if threatened, the badger may use it to plug up the entrance.

Wisconsin has been unofficially nicknamed the “Badger State” since the 1800s, when lead miners found shelter in old mine shafts, just like a badger taking over other animals’ old burrows.  In 1957 a small group of schoolchildren suggested that, because of this history, the badger should be the official state animal. So, while the white-tailed deer is Wisconsin’s state wildlife animal, the dairy cow is the state domesticated animal, it is the badger that is the overall state animal of Wisconsin.  In the words of the state song, this is the “grand old badger state!”  I’m so glad to have met one in person on that dewy morning.

For over 44 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. The new exhibit, The Joy of Birds: Feathers in Focus opened in May, 2011. Find us on the web at to learn more about our exhibits and programs. Also discover us on Facebook, or at our blogspot,

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