The honey badger (Mellivora capensis), also called the ratel, is a large Mustelid (member of the weasel family) that lives in sub-Saharan Africa. Males can reach 11 inches at the shoulder and a little over three feet in length, while females are slightly smaller. This animal has loose skin that allows it to twist out of an attacker’s grasp easily and without damage. The skin around its neck is thicker and has evolved as a defense during fights. Not only does the honey badger have good defenses, it also has good offense. These Mustelids possess long and very powerful claws as well as a strong jaw that can even break through a tortoise’s shell. The claws, however, are used primarily for excavation of burrows for shelter. Honey badger burrows are only a few meters in length and serve as a nesting chamber. If they can, they will sometimes use abandoned aardvark or warthog burrows instead of digging one for themselves. Not much is known about honey badger reproduction, but a female honey badger’s gestation period is suspected to be approximately six months and she usually gives birth to two cubs. These cubs remain blind for a little while after they are born and are dependent on the mother for some time.
Honey badgers, like wolverines and other large members of the weasel family, are very aggressive and will attack most other animals if they feel threatened. There are even incidents of honey badgers fighting against larger predators like lions or species of wild canine. Sometimes they will even steal kills from these predators. Not many other animals prey on honey badgers and they are generally left alone because they are such tireless fighters and wear opponents out easily.
When it comes to diet, honey badgers are typically carnivorous. They will eat anything they find including eggs, lizards, birds, snakes, rodents, tortoises, frogs, insects, and even sometimes dead human bodies that they dig up. Roots, berries, and other vegetation is also part of their diet, as is honey. Honey is one of their favorite foods, as the name suggests, and they will go to great lengths to destroy beehives to get to it. Though it is disputed, there are undocumented accounts of greater honeyguides (Indicator indicator) leading honey badgers to hives. Bee stings have a minimal effect this animal because its skin is so tough and impervious. This lets the honey badger eat the honey and bee larvae that it exposes at its leisure. However, there are still occurrences of badgers dying while caught in traps due the large number of bee stings they have received. It also has a reversible anal pouch that produces an extremely strong smell which is thought to calm the bees and ward off predators.
In many areas where there are large human populations, honey badgers have adapted to raid livestock and poultry. These very determined animals will rip apart chicken coops to gain access to the birds and their eggs. If caught, a honey badger will aggressively defend itself and prove very hard to kill. Not only have honey badgers become a nuisance in farming areas, but they are an excellent reservoir for the rabies virus in Kenya as well. This poses a danger to both other wild animals in the area and humans and pets who are unlucky enough to encounter a rabid badger.
Overall, the honey badger is not an animal that should be treated with nonchalance. Although it might be kind of cute, it should be given plenty of space and respect.
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4. Hamerton, Denise. “Mellivora Capensis (Honey Badger).” Biodiversity Explorer. Iziko: Museums of Cape Town, n.d. Web. 25 June 2015. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.biodiversityexplorer.org%2Fmammals%2Fcarnivora%2Fmellivora_capensis.htm>.
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