The honey badger (Mellivora capensis) is part of the weasel family, related to animals like skunks, ferrets and other badgers. It has thick black-and-white fur and a scent gland at the base of its tail, like a skunk, that it uses to dispense a smelly liquid if threatened or to mark its territory. An adult honey badger is between 29 and 38 inches long with a tail between 5 and 9 inches long. The average honey badger weighs between 13 and 30 pounds, although females are smaller than males.
Many people know of the African honey badger, known as the "ratel" in South Africa, but the animal not only lives in sub-Saharan Africa but also Asia, the Middle East and India. The species ranges as far north as Afghanistan and Nepal and as far south as South Africa. The honey badger is opportunistic and adapts itself to all sorts of habitats, including grasslands, deserts and mountains. Although it prefers drier areas, the creature also makes its home in forests and is adept at swimming and climbing trees.
What's in a Name?
With a name like "honey," you'd think honey badgers would be sweet animals, but they are tenacious and persistent creatures. They got the name because they like to raid beehives, and although they do eat the honey, it's the bee larvae they're really after. They doggedly pursue their prey and somehow manage to survive bites from cobras and puff adders as well as stings by bees and scorpions. How they do this is still a mystery to scientists, but it's likely most bee stings don't penetrate their dense hair and thick skin.
Home Sweet Home
Honey badgers move about and forage during the night, and they dig burrows as much as 9 feet long and 5 feet deep to sleep during the day. Honey badgers aren't picky, though, and they readily take advantage of any sort of shelter available to them in their home ranges. They sleep in rock crevices or holes under tree roots, and also take over dens dug by other animals such as aardvarks and mongooses. Except for mothers and their young, honey badgers are solitary animals with expansive home ranges that frequently overlap. Male honey badgers maintain a home range as broad as 200 square miles. Females have smaller home ranges, but even those are typically not smaller than 50 square miles. To compare, a North American badger of similar size only has a home range of around one square mile.
While the species as a whole isn't considered endangered or threatened, honey badgers have disappeared from areas such as Morocco and Israel where they were previously common. The country of Niger considers them endangered within its borders, and they are protected by national law in Israel and India. Beekeepers consider honey badgers a nuisance, and they also fall victim to poison and traps set indiscriminately by farmers intending to catch other animals. Honey badgers' solitary, nocturnal activity makes them difficult to count using traditional survey methods, and their need for sizable home ranges means most national parks can't accomodate them.
Jennifer Mueller began writing and editing professionally in 1995, when she became sports editor of her university's newspaper while also writing a bi-monthly general interest column for an independent tourist publication. Mueller holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Juris Doctor from Indiana University Maurer School of Law.