Not much larger than a domestic cat, honey badgers are members of the weasel family and are notorious for a ferocious demeanor accentuated by deep growls when they are threatened. Also known as ratels, this species is found in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and some regions of Asia. Honey badgers generally avoid extreme conditions of deserts and rain forests, preferring temperate climates instead.
Honey badgers are mammals, a class of vertebrates with a spine. Vertebrates share several features, including hair at some stage of their life cycle and middle ears containing three bones. Females have milk-producing mammary glands to nourish offspring. Mammals are endothermic, or warm blooded, meaning they generate their own heat and do not depend on external conditions to regulate their internal temperature.
Honey badgers belong to the family Mustelidae, which includes badgers, weasels, otters, martens, ferrets, mink and the wolverine, among other species. Mustelids share several characteristics, including short limbs and a relatively long, slender body. Mustelids also possess scent glands that allow them to produce an unpleasant smell in order to discourage predators and demarcate territories.
A Varied Menu
Honey badgers belong to the order Carnivora, which includes approximately 270 mammal species whose ancestors were primarily meat eaters. Like several other species of this order, however, honey badgers are omnivores, a term that describes animals that consume both plants and other animals. Honey badgers get their name from their habit of going after beehives in search of honey and larvae, but they also prey on birds, reptiles (including venomous snakes), rodents and insects. Honey badgers also eat fruits and roots. At times, honey badgers may attack animals many times their size, such as buffalo and antelope.
Biologists have a difficult time studying honey badgers in their natural habitats and assessing population sizes because of the furtive, solitary nature of the species. Honey badgers are nocturnal and therefore do most of their hunting after dark. They are also burrowers that use their long claws to excavate underground tunnels in which to hide and rest.
Since beginning her career as a professional journalist in 2007, Nathalie Alonso has covered a myriad of topics, including arts, culture and travel, for newspapers and magazines in New York City. She holds a B.A. in American Studies from Columbia University and lives in Queens with her two cats.