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The badger is well-equipped to live up to its nickname of the “earth-mover.” Its powerful forelegs and long claws allow it to easily dig ground squirrels and gophers out of their burrows. Badgers are very powerful animals, but are not aggressive unless provoked. In fact, rather than engaging in a fight, badgers often dig themselves into a hole for defense. Man and packs of dogs are the chief predators of badgers in Indiana, but coyotes may take a few young each spring.
This husky member of the weasel family is specialized for digging. Built close to the ground, they weigh up to 40 pounds and can reach 35 inches in length, including the tail. Their overall color is silver-gray, but they have a distinctive, narrow, white stripe running from the nose over the top of the head. Cheeks are white with a black patch in front of short, erect ears. The fur is short, coarse and not of much value. Badger hair bristles, once used in shaving brushes, have now been replaced by man-made fibers.
Badgers mate in the fall, but the young do not start developing within the mother's body until February. During winter, badgers spend long periods underground. In early spring, a litter of two to five young are born in a grass-lined burrow. The young are weaned when they are half-grown. At this time, they begin to venture outside the underground home on hunting trips. In the fall, after the young have learned to hunt for themselves, the family separates and the animals become rather solitary. Their life expectancy in the wild is unknown, but they have lived 13 years in captivity.
Because badgers are nocturnal, their presence is often evidenced by extensive diggings rather than actual sightings. The burrows are more flattened than groundhog dens and are shaped in half moons, which conforms with the general body shape of the badger. Generally, the tunnels are found in well-drained soils and may be 30 feet long and five feet deep.
Chipmunks and thirteen-lined ground squirrels are favorite foods and can be quickly dug out of their own burrows. Badgers also feed on skunks, reptiles, rabbits, snail, insects, eggs of ground-nesting birds and an occasional carcass. If the badger should kill a rabbit or skunk, its appetite will be satisfied long before the entire animal is consumed. In this event, the leftovers will be stored in a cache to be dug up later, or the badger may dig a subterranean banquet room and remain with the feast until it is entirely eaten.
Badgers prefer an open, prairie-type habitat, with Indiana being at the eastern edge of their natural range. The range of the badger continues to expand as a result of land-use changes from forest to farmland and open pastureland. In the early 1900s, badgers were reported in only 12 counties in the northern quarter of Indiana. By 1955, badgers had extended their range southward to include 33 counties in the northern half of the state. By 1985, Badgers had been reported in 67 counties, primarily in northern and central Indiana. As of 1998, badgers were reported in 61 counties with the most common occurrence in the northern third of the state.
Badgers are classified as a species of special concern in Indiana and are protected by state law. They have little economic value, but are fascinating native species that deserves to live for future generations as a member of the wildlife heritage of Indiana.