Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
Body length: 24 to 30 inches (60 to 77 centimeters)
Tail length: 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 centimeters)
Shoulder height: 9 to 12 inches (23 to 30 centimeters)
Weight: up to 26 pounds (12 kilograms)
Life span: unknown in the wild; up to 26 years in zoos
Gestation: 6 to 8 months
Number of young at birth: usually 1, sometimes 2
Weight at birth: about 7 ounces (200 grams)
Age of maturity: 1.5 years (14 to 27 grams)
Conservation status: lower risk
• The honey badger's skin is so thick that it can withstand bee stings, porcupine quills, or even dog bites!
• Honey badgers seem to be resistant to bee stings and snake venom.
• It seems that the honey badger's smelly gland secretions cause some bees to fly away from their hive!
Listen to a honey badger
Mammals: Honey Badger (Ratel)
Honey (badger), Is that you?
The honey badger is part of the weasel family, related to skunks, otters, ferrets, and other badgers. Its proper name is "ratel," but it gets the common name of “honey badger” from what seems to be its favorite food: honey. Yet what the animal is actually looking to eat are the bee larvae found in the honey!
This tough little critter has a stocky, flattened body with short, strong legs, along with long claws on the front feet for digging and defense. The honey badger's hair is thick and coarse, mostly black, with a wide gray-white stripe that stretches across its back from the top of the head to the tip of the tail. Does it remind you of a skunk? The honey badger also has a gland at the base of its tail that stores a stinky liquid just as powerful as that of its look-alike. The smelly stuff is used to mark territory, but if the honey badger is frightened or threatened, it drops a “stink bomb” rather than spraying the odor like its skunk relative. The honey badger's odor doesn’t last long, like that of a skunk’s, but it still gets its message across: “Leave me alone!”
An adult male honey badger shows off his loose but tough skin that allows him to escape from would-be predators.
A sweet personality?
Not! It would be hard to find a more quarrelsome animal than the honey badger. It doesn’t start fights it can’t finish, and it makes an impressive foe. Also, the honey badger's skin is tough and loose, allowing the animal to twist around and bite an opponent that has grabbed it by the back of its neck. Combine that with a massive skull, strong teeth, and that awful odor, and you have an animal nobody wants to mess with!
What’s on the menu?
Everything! The honey badger has an appetite for food ranging from small mammals and the young of large mammals to birds, reptiles, insects, carrion, and even a little vegetation, including juicy fruits. It also has a unique relationship with a bird—the honey guide. The honey guide’s songs lead the honey badger to a beehive, where it breaks open the nest with its long claws for a sweet feast while the bird gets some grubs and honey for itself, all thanks to the honey badger. Now that’s cooperation!
The honey badger at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park receives a commerical meat diet for zoo carnivores, mice, meal worms, and crickets. She gets a bone to chew on once a week and is offered some fruit, mostly as a treat on hot days; honeydew is her favorite. Interestingly, the Park's honey badger hasn't really taken to honey!
As a nocturnal species, honey badgers sleep most of the day, curling up into a ball to protect their faces and bellies.
Any burrow in a storm
With those long claws, the honey badger digs burrows up to 9 feet (3 meters) long and up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) deep. A single tunnel ends in a chamber, which is usually bare, where the honey badger rests. But when it comes to making a home, honey badger aren’t afraid to use what’s already available to them: rock crevices and holes under tree roots, old termite mounds, or the dens of other animals such as aardvarks. Burrows made by Cape foxes, bat-eared foxes, yellow mongooses, and springhares are also taken over by the honey badger.
This young honey badger will soon look just like her parents.
The female honey badger is left alone to give birth and raise her young after the breeding season in September and October. The expectant mother digs a nursery chamber and lines it with grass for her babies. After a gestation period of six to eight weeks, one cub (rarely two) is born in April or May. The newborn is hairless with pink skin and closed eyes. At one week of age its skin begins to change from pink to gray; two weeks later, fine gray hair begins to grow. The familiar white stripe appears about a week after that. By the time the cub is close to three months old, it has become a perfect miniature of its parents.
Hey, that’s MY honey!
The honey badger sweet tooth does not make it popular with people who keep raise bees for their honey. Some beekeepers killed any honey badgers they saw just to protect their beehives. However, since honey badgers can’t jump, many beekeepers have found that simply securing the beehives a few feet higher off the ground discourages ratels from climbing up to reach them and keeps the bees and their honey safe. Many bee keepers in Africa are now producing “badger-friendly honey”—it’s a sweet deal for all!