The honey badger (Mellivora capensis)
The honey badger (Mellivora capensis), also known as the Ratel, is a species of mustelid native to Africa, Southwest Asia, and the Indian Subcontinent. Despite its name, the honey badger does not closely resemble other badger species; instead, it bears more anatomical similarities to weasels. It is classed as Least Concern by the IUCN owing to its extensive range and general environmental adaptations. It is primarily a carnivorous species and has few natural predators because of its thick skin and ferocious defensive abilities.
Genus: Mellivora (Storr, 1780)
Species: M. capensis
Honey Badger Quick Statistics
Scientific name: Mellivora capensis (Schreber, 1776)
Common names: Honey badger, ratel, honey ratel.
Taxonomy: As many as 10 subspecies suggested, currently being revised.
Total length:780 to 1020mmm
Head: 25 to 155 mm
Body: 500 to 640 mm
Tail: 160 to 230mm
Shoulder height: 230 to 300 mm
Neck circumference: 225 to 355 mm
Weight:Male: 9.0 to 14.0 kg, Female:5.5 to 10.0 kg
Diet: Generalist carnivore
General distribution: The greater part of sub-Saharan Africa, through the Middle East to southern Russia, and eastwards as far as India and Nepal.
Habitat: Wide tolerance, from semi-desert to rainforest.
Altitude: Sea level to 4,050 meters.
Longevity: Estimated 5 to 8 years in wild, 24 years in captivity.
Social system: Solitary, polygynous, males may form small groups.
Breeding season: None, breed throughout year.
Gestation: 6 – 8 weeks typical (may exhibit delayed implantation in some areas). More data needed
Litter size: 1 rarely 2 cubs
Conservation status: Unprotected on International Red Data List, Near Threatened in South Africa. , Near Threatened in Morocco, Endangered in Saudi Arabia, protected in India.
Threats: Directly persecuted by bee- keepers, poultry and sheep farmers. Indirect persecution through indiscriminate poisoning and trapping for jackal and caracal. Trade for traditional medicine. Bushmeat in Zambia.
Predators: Lion,leopard and man.
The honey badger is the only species of the genus Mellivora. Although in the 1860s it was assigned to the badger subfamily, the Melinae, it is now generally agreed that it bears very few similarities to the Melinae. It is much more closely related to the marten subfamily, Mustelinae, but furthermore is assigned its own subfamily, Mellivorinae. Differences between Mellivorinae and Melinae include differences in their dentition formulae. Though not in the same subfamily as the wolverines, which are a genus of large-sized and atypical Mustelinae, the honey badger can be regarded as another, analogous, form of outsized weasel or polecat.
The species first appeared during the middle Pliocene in Asia. Its closest relation was the extinct genus Eomellivora, which is known from the upper Miocene, and evolved into several different species throughout the whole Pliocene in both the Old and New World.
A Physical Description of the Honey Badger
The honey badger has a fairly long body, but is distinctly thick-set and broad across the back. Its skin is remarkably loose, and allows it to turn and twist freely within it. The skin around the neck is 6 millimetres (0.24 in) thick, an adaptation to fighting conspecifics. The head is small and flat, with a short muzzle. The eyes are small, and the ears are little more than ridges on the skin, another possible adaptation to avoiding damage while fighting.
The honey badger has short and sturdy legs, with five toes on each foot. The feet are armed with very strong claws, which are short on the hind legs and remarkably long on the forelimbs. It is a partially plantigrade animal whose soles are thickly padded and naked up to the wrists. The tail is short and is covered in long hairs, save for below the base.
Honey badgers are the largest terrestrial mustelids in Africa. Adults measure 23 to 28 cm (9.1 to 11.0 in) in shoulder height and 55–77 cm (22–30 in) in body length, with the tail adding another 12–30 cm (4.7–11.8 in). Females are smaller than males. Males weigh 9 to 16 kg (20 to 35 lb) while females weigh 5 to 10 kg (11 to 22 lb) on average. Skull length is 13.9–14.5 cm (5.5–5.7 in) in males and 13 cm (5.1 in) for females.
There are two pairs of mammae. The honey badger possesses an anal pouch which, unusual among mustelids, is eversible, a trait shared with hyenas and mongooses. The smell of the pouch is reportedly “suffocating”, and may assist in calming bees when raiding beehives.
The skull bears little similarity to that of the European badger, and greatly resembles a larger version of a marbled polecat skull. The skull is very solidly built, with that of adults having no trace of an independent bone structure. The braincase is broader than that of dogs.
Honey Badger Teeth
The dental formula is: 220.127.116.11.1.3.1. The teeth often display signs of irregular development, with some teeth being exceptionally small, set at unusual angles or are absent altogether. Honey badgers of the subspecies signata have a second lower molar on the left side of their jaws, but not the right. Although it feeds predominantly on soft foods, the honey badger’s cheek teeth are often extensively worn. The canine teeth are exceptionally short for carnivores. The tongue has sharp, backward-pointing papillae which assist it in processing tough foods.
Honey Badger Habits and Behaviors
Although mostly solitary, honey badgers may hunt together in pairs during the May breeding season. Little is known of the honey badger’s breeding habits. Its gestation period is thought to last six months, usually resulting in two cubs, which are born blind. They vocalise through plaintive whines. Its lifespan in the wild is unknown, though captive individuals have been known to live for approximately 24 years.
Honey badgers live alone in self-dug holes. They are skilled diggers, able to dig tunnels into hard ground in 10 minutes. These burrows usually only have one passage and a nesting chamber and are usually only 1–3 m long. They do not place bedding into the nesting chamber. Although they usually dig their own burrows, they may take over disused aardvark and warthog holes or termite mounds.
Honey badgers are intelligent animals and are one of a few species known to be capable of using tools. In the 1997 documentary series Land of the Tiger, a honey badger in India was filmed making use of a tool; the animal rolled a log and stood on it to reach a kingfisher fledgling stuck up in the roots coming from the ceiling in an underground cave. A video made at the Moholoholo rehab centre in South Africa showed a pair of honey badgers using sticks, a rake, heaps of mud and stones to escape from their walled pit.
As with other mustelids of relatively large size, such as wolverines and badgers, honey badgers are notorious for their strength, ferocity and toughness. They have been known to savagely and fearlessly attack almost any kind of animal when escape is impossible, reportedly even repelling much larger predators such as lions. Bee stings, porcupine quills, and animal bites rarely penetrate their skin. If horses, cattle, or Cape buffalos intrude upon a ratel’s burrow, it will attack them. They are virtually tireless in combat and can wear out much larger animals in physical confrontations. The aversion of most predators toward hunting honey badgers has led to the theory that the countershaded coats of cheetah kittens evolved in imitation of the honey badger’s colouration to ward off predators.
The voice of the honey badger is a hoarse “khrya-ya-ya-ya” sound. When mating, males emit loud grunting sounds. Cubs vocalise through plaintive whines. When confronting dogs, honey badgers scream like bear cubs.
Honey Badger’s Diet
Next to the wolverine, the honey badger has the least specialised diet of the weasel family. In undeveloped areas, honey badgers may hunt at any time of the day, though they become nocturnal in places with high human populations. When hunting, they trot with their foretoes turned in. Honey badgers favor bee honey, and will often search for beehives to get it, which earns them their name. They are also carnivorous and will eat insects, frogs, tortoises, rodents, turtles, lizards, snakes, eggs, and birds. Honey badgers have even been known to chase away young lions and take their kills. They will eat fruit and vegetables such as berries, roots and bulbs. Despite popular belief, there is no evidence that honeyguides (a bird species that eats bee larvae) guide the honey badger.
They may hunt frogs and rodents such as gerbils and ground squirrels by digging them out of their burrows. Honey badgers are able to feed on tortoises without difficulty, due to their powerful jaws. They kill and eat snakes, even highly venomous or large ones such as cobras. They have been known to dig up human corpses in India. They devour all parts of their prey, including skin, hair, feathers, flesh and bones, holding their food down with their forepaws. When seeking vegetable food, they lift stones or tear bark from trees.
The Range of a Honey Badger
The species ranges through most of sub-Saharan Africa, from the Western Cape, South Africa, to southern Morocco and southwestern Algeria and outside Africa through Arabia, Iran and western Asia to Turkmenistan and the Indian Peninsula. It is known to range from sea level to as much as 2,600 m above sea level in the Moroccan High Atlas and 4,000 m in Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains.
Pictures of the Honey Badger
Videos and Documentaries of the Honey Badger
Nature Documentary on the Honey Badger
Clever Honey Badgen
Honey Badgers; Masters of Mayhem
PDF Documentation on the Honey Badger
> Mellivora Capensis.
> Life History Variables of an Atypical Mustelid, The honey Badger.
> Sexual and Seasonal Variations in the diet and foraging behavior of the Honey Badger.
> Scent Marking Behavior of the Honey Badger.
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