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Wild Thing: Digging for Dinner

Badgers often burrow in search of prey - and emit a foul odor when threatened.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

When Daniel Collins spotted a badger (Taxidea taxus) at Chaparral Wildlife Management Area, he grabbed a camera from his truck. Meanwhile, the burly animal scrambled into a nearby burrow and covered himself with dirt.

"Only his nose was sticking out," recalls Collins, who studied badger populations at the South Texas site for his master's thesis in 2002. "After he picked up my scent, then he pulled in his nose and plugged the hole."

Not only do American badgers have a keen sense of smell (second only to dogs), they can also release a nasty odor when threatened. Broad-bodied and short-legged, these furry carnivores — marked by a distinctive white stripe that runs from their nose to shoulders — use their long, sharp front claws to dig at amazing speeds. In fact, they often burrow after prey, including ground squirrels, pack rats, prairie dogs, cottontail rabbits and snakes.

Largely nocturnal, badgers inhabit underground dens called "setts." Come mating season in summer and early fall, their solitary nature turns more sociable. However, litters of one to five young aren't born until the following spring due to delayed implantation (nature's way of forestalling birth until warmer weather).

A member of the cunning weasel family, badgers typically leave a mound of dirt around their setts. One day, Collins, who ultimately collared five individuals as part of his study, set a trap next to a badger burrow he'd identified.

"I came back the next morning and found fresh dirt around the trap," he says. "The bugger had dug another hole next to the trap so he could get into his burrow!"

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