Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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The Badger
Nature Bulletin No. 180-A   February 20, 1965
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

THE BADGER
One of the largest of the weasel tribe, which includes the skunks, mink, otters, martens and wolverine, is the Badger. It is much different from the others. Like the mole, it is a digger built for digging; squat heavy muscular body, short neck, and short powerful legs with large strong claws which are more than one inch long on its big forefeet. Its small flat broad head, with low rounded ears and white cheeks with a black bar in front of each ear, is featured by a narrow white stripe that runs, from the sharp-pointed nose, back over the forehead to shoulders.

It has a very short bushy tail and its long shaggy fur is grizzled yellowish-gray, parted in the middle along the back and hanging down almost to the ground. A badger, 27 to 29 inches long including a 5- inch tail, is so low, flat, broad and shaggy that, when running, he reminds you of a galloping doormat.

Badgers occur in North America from Indiana to the Pacific Coast and from central Canada south to Texas. Wisconsin is known as the "Badger State", some say, because Wisconsin pioneers working in the lead mines north of Galena, commonly lived in hillside caves resembling badger burrows. Now rare, the animal was once common there and in the north half of Illinois. It prefers the plains inhabited by prairie dogs, and the grasslands or open forests where ground squirrels, gophers and field mice are plentiful. They also eat some insects, snails, turtle eggs, young rabbits, and occasionally the eggs or young of ground-nesting birds.

They excavate and live in deep long burrows. In cold northern regions they hibernate. They are most active at night when they industriously dig for rodents, leaving numerous large holes into which a horse may stumble and break its leg. One naturalist came upon a badger leisurely digging out a ground squirrel. Immediately, accompanied by a furious snarling and rumbling, a continuous geyser of earth shot out of the hole and in a short time the badger was deep below the surface.

Shy and sly, the badger becomes a vicious formidable fighter if surprised away from its den and given no chance to dig. Blows that would kill most animals seem not to affect him, probably because of his heavy fur, tough skin, and compact muscular build. This fierceness, stubbornness and remarkable endurance led to the cruel "sport" of badger-baiting, formerly practiced in England and some of our western states, where a badger would be placed in a barrel lying on its side and relays of dogs sent in to try to drag him out. From this came our expression: "to badger", meaning to tease, harass and worry.

Apparently a pair of badgers, once mated, stay paired a long time. They have from 2 to 5 young in a litter, late in the spring. They are probably able to avoid the only animals, such as lynx and wolves, powerful enough to prey on them. Man is their chief enemy, although they are cunning enough to be difficult to trap. The long coarse hairs of their fur, tipped with silvery white above a narrow black band, make excellent brushes, especially artists' brushes and those used in shaving. The fur was formerly considered useless otherwise, but after World War I badger pelts from the northern and mountainous regions, where the fur is more dense and silky, came to be worth as much as $50 each. As a result, the badger has been so greatly reduced in numbers as to be in danger of extinction. Used principally for linings in women's cloth coats, a more important use of the fur is in "pointing" other kinds of fur-- a skillful process whereby the long silvery badger hairs are glued in groups on the less desirable grades of fox, or other pelts dyed to imitate fox.

We also have the expression: "Gray as a badger". And another: "the badger game" which can be a joke or a gyp.


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