Biogallery

Get to know the Species

Badger

Although being of medium size means it may resemble a dog, its white head covered with two black stripes from the tip of its snout to its ears is unmistakeable: it is indeed a badger (Meles meles). If you are still in doubt, its short white tail is also a distinctive feature of this species that exists in the wild in Portugal and throughout Europe.

Despite being a species that can be found all over the country, it is not always easy to spot badgers, as they are most active during twilight hours and at night, when they come out to feed, play and breed.

Badgers are carnivores, but in truth their opportunistic nature when it comes to food makes them omnivorous, eating whatever is available to them each season. Roots, mushrooms and fruit – such as olives, acorns, blackberries, and figs that they collect at ground level – are part of their diet, which also includes arthropods, insects, and worms (Lumbricus terrestris). They also hunt small birds, reptiles and amphibians.

Owing to its strong, 25 millimetre long claws, the badger is an accomplished digger and builder, and is adept at creating extensive and complex burrow systems that are used as a home for its family, often for several generations. These burrows are known as a sett, and this is where they breed and live.

At just over a year old, between 14 and 15 months, badgers reach sexual maturity. They can mate at any time of year, but it is most common for mating to take place from February to May and July to September. In order to increase the chances of survival of their young, females have “a trick up their sleeve”: they are able to delay embryo implantation for up to ten months, so that the birth coincides with spring, which has better weather conditions and is when a greater quantity of food is available. Gestation is short, only seven weeks, and each litter produces two to three offspring, which remain close to the family unit.

Badgers typically dig their setts on soft, sandy ground. Their strong, short claws do most of the work, but with the help of the badger’s snout. In order to prevent soil entering their ears, badgers are able to close them while digging.

In addition to their setts, badgers also dig latrines – pits a few centimetres deep, where they deposit their droppings. This is their way of marking their territory and observing the latrines gives us clues as to the area in which they usually move. In Portugal, the average territory of a badger ranges from around four to five km2, but it may be much more extensive: in Poland, territory belonging to a badger measuring 24.4 km2 has been recorded.

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Did you know that…

  • In the Iberian Peninsula, it is not common to find communal setts, but in other regions, setts with up to 35 badgers have been found. This record number was recorded in the British Isles: the high density of the species in a given area can be explained by the abundance of food. Interestingly, badgers also share their setts with other animals, especially foxes, with whom they share tasks. While badgers maintain their setts, foxes provide food. However, these are short-lived arrangements, which end with one of the species being evicted.
  • A single sett can have three to ten entrances (depending on its size, it may have up to a hundred entrances) and may be lined with ferns or straw. As more badgers are born, more corridors, new entrances and ventilation channels are dug. Sometimes, adjacent setts, which are smaller in size, are also built and connected by a system of tunnels and used as a place of refuge in times of need. Badger setts are often passed down from generation to generation and can remain occupied for several hundreds of years.
  • Swedish botanist and zoologist Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778) studied badger behaviour and at the time thought honey was one of their favourite foods. For this reason, he named the species Ursus meles, or honey bear. Nowadays, it is well known that this is not normal behaviour.
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  • MAMMAL

  • Badger

    Meles meles

  • Genus:

    Meles

  • Family:

    Mustelidae

  • Conservation status:

    Conservation status of Little Concern in Portugal and internationally, according to the IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

  • Habitats:

    Deciduous, mixed, and coniferous forests; the edges of eucalyptus plantations; Mediterranean woodland; areas of riverside vegetation; and agricultural, forestry, and pastoral landscapes, such as oak forests used for grazing pigs.

  • Distribution:

    Badgers can be found throughout most of the European continent, as far as Russia and the northern part of the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan). Their distribution is limited in the north by boreal forests and in the south by desert areas.

  • Height/Length:

    It weighs between 5.3 and 10.4 kilos and is between 81.5 and 98 centimetres long. There are some differences, depending on the region: specimens from the Iberian Peninsula tend to be smaller than in Central Europe.

  • Longevity:

    Up to 14 years in the wild.

How we look after badgers

Badgers were one of the 11 mammal species identified as part of the WildForests project conducted in The Navigator Company’s eucalyptus plantations in the regions of Góis, Malcata and Pampilhosa, the areas where fieldwork took place. The species has also been identified in forest properties that the company manages further north and south, from Malcata and Mogadouro to southwest and central Alentejo (Nisa and Castro Verde, for example), as well as in the Charneca do Tejo.

Since badgers are generalist mammals that can feed on multiple resources and live in different types of forest, conservation measures are mainly geared towards their habitat, maintaining and improving areas of interest for biodiversity conservation. This ensures that these areas provide conditions for feeding, shelter, and reproduction for this and other species, and that, at the same time, they also serve as ecological corridors, favouring their natural dispersal and genetic exchange between populations.

It should be noted that badgers are also one of the mammal species that can be found at the Quinta de São Francisco estate, near Aveiro. During the spring of 2022, some of the night images that we see in the video were captured on this estate. Images were also obtained on the forest property of Zambujo.

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