The honey badger at Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary is named Buksie.
The Honey badger Mellivora capensis, is also known as the ratel. The Honey badger is a species of mustelid native to Africa, Southwest Asia, and the Indian Subcontinent. Despite its name, the honey badger does not closely resemble other badger species, instead it bears more anatomical similarities to weasels. It is classed as Least Concern by the IUCN owing to its extensive range and general environmental adaptations. It is primarily a carnivorous species, and has few natural predators because of its thick skin and ferocious defensive abilities.
Ratel is an Afrikaans word, possibly derived from the Middle Dutch word for rattle, honeycomb (either because of its cry or its taste for honey).
The Honey badger is the only member of the genus Mellivora. Although it was initially assigned to the badger group in the 1860s, it is now generally accepted that they bear very few similarities to the subfamily Melinae, instead being much closer to the marten family. Differences between Mellivora and Melinae include a different dentition. Though not related to the wolverine, which is a large-sized deviant of the marten family, the honey badger can be considered an analogous form of weasel (polecat). The species first appeared during the middle Pliocene in Asia. Its closest relation was the extinct genus Eomellivora, which is known from the upper Miocene, and evolved into several different species throughout the whole Pliocene in both the Old and New World.
As of 2005, 12 subspecies are recognised. Points taken into consideration in assigning different subspecies include size and the extent of whiteness or greyness on the back.
Facial profile and anal glands
The Honey badger has a fairly long body, but is distinctly thick set and broad across the back. Its skin is remarkably loose, and allows it to turn and twist freely within it. The skin around the neck is 6 millimetres (0.24 in) thick, an adaptation to fighting conspecifics. The head is small and flat, with a short muzzle. The eyes are small, and the ears are little more than ridges on the skin, another possible adaptation to avoiding damage while fighting.
The Honeybadger has short and sturdy legs, with five toes on each foot. The feet are armed with very strong claws, which are short on the hind legs and remarkably long on the forelimbs. It is a partially plantigrade animal whose soles are thickly padded and naked up to the wrists. The tail is short and is covered in long hairs, save for below the base.
Adults measure 23 to 28 centimetres (9.1 to 11 in) in shoulder height and 68–75 cm in body length, with females being smaller than males. Males weigh 12 to 16 kilograms (26 to 35 lb) while females weigh 9.1 kg. Skull length is 13.9–14.5 cm in males and 13 cm for females.
There are two pairs of mammae. The Honey badger possesses an anal pouch which, unusually among mustelids, is reversible, a trait shared with hyenas. The smell of the pouch is reportedly "suffocating", and may assist in calming bees when raiding beehives.
The skull bears little similarity to that of the European badger, and greatly resembles a larger version of a marbled polecat skull. The skull is very solidly built, with that of adults having no trace of an independent bone structure. The braincase is broader than that of dogs.
The Honey badger's teeth often display signs of irregular development, with some teeth being exceptionally small, set at unusual angles or are absent altogether. Honey badgers of the subspecies signata have a second lower molar on the left side of their jaw, but not the right. Although it feeds predominantly on soft foods, the honey badger's cheek teeth are often extensively worn. The canine teeth are exceptionally short for carnivores. The tongue has sharp, backward-pointing papillae which assist it in processing tough foods.
The winter fur is long (being 40–50 mm long on the lower back), and consists of sparse, coarse, bristle-like hairs lacking underfur. Hairs are even sparser on the flanks, belly and groin. The summer fur is shorter (being only 15 mm long on the back) and even sparser, with the belly being half bare. The sides of the heads and lower body are pure black in colour. A large white band covers their upper bodies, beginning from the top of their heads down to the base of their tails. Honey badgers of the cottoni subspecies are unique in being completely black in colour.
Behaviour and habits
Although mostly solitary, honey badgers may hunt together in pairs during the May breeding season. Little is known of the honey badger's breeding habits. It is thought that its gestation period lasts six months, usually resulting in two cubs, which are born blind. They vocalise through plaintive whines. Their lifespan in the wild is unknown, though captive individuals have been known to live for approximately 24 years.
Honey badgers live alone in self-dug holes. They are skilled diggers, being able to dig tunnels into hard ground in 10 minutes. These burrows usually only have one passage and a nesting chamber and are usually not large, being only 1–3 metres in length. They do not place bedding into the nesting chamber. Although they usually dig their own burrows, they may take over disused aardvark and warthog holes or termite mounds.
Honey badgers are intelligent animals and are one of a few species known to be capable of using tools. In the 1997 documentary series Land of the Tiger, a honey badger in India was filmed making use of a tool; the animal rolled a log and stood on it to reach a kingfisher fledgling stuck up in the roots coming from the ceiling in an underground cave.
Honey badgers are notoriously fearless and tough animals, having been known to savagely attack their enemies when escape is impossible. Bee stings, porcupine quills, and animal bites rarely penetrate the Honey Badger's skin. If horses, cattle, or Cape buffalos intrude upon a Ratel's burrow, the Ratel will attack them. They are tireless in combat and can wear out much larger animals in physical confrontations. The aversion of most predators toward hunting honey badgers has led to the theory that the countershaded coats of cheetah kittens evolved in imitation of the honey badger's colouration in order to ward off predators.
The voice of the honey badger is a hoarse "khrya-ya-ya-ya" sound. When mating, males emit loud grunting sounds. Cubs vocalise through plaintive whines.
Next to the Wolverine, the Honey badger has the most specialised diet of weasels. In undeveloped areas, honey badgers may hunt at any time of the day, though they become nocturnal in places with high human populations. When hunting, Honey badgers trot with their fore-toes turned in, moving at the same speed as a young man[clarification needed]. Honey badgers favor Bee Honey and will often search for beehives to get it, which earns them the name "Honey Badger". They often follow a bird called the Honeyguide (which eats bee larvae) to find the beehives. They are also carnivorous and will eat insects, frogs, tortoises, rodents, turtles, lizards, eggs, and birds. Honey Badgers have even been known to chase away young Lions and take their kills. They will eat fruit and vegetables such as berries, roots and bulbs.
They may hunt frogs and rodents such as gerbils and ground squirrels by digging them out of their burrows. Honey badgers are able to feed on tortoises without difficulty, due to their powerful jaws. They kill and eat snakes, even highly venomous or large ones such as cobras. They have been known to dig up human corpses in India. They devour all parts of their prey, including skin, hair, feathers, flesh and bones, holding their food down with their forepaws. When seeking vegetable food, they lift stones or tear bark from trees.
The species ranges through most of Sub-Saharan Africa from the Western Cape, South Africa, to southern Morocco and southwestern Algeria and outside Africa through Arabia, Iran and western Asia to Turkmenistan and the Indian Peninsula. It is known to range from sea level to as much as 2,600 m asl in the Moroccan High Atlas and 4,000 m asl in Ethiopia's Bale Mountains.
Relationships with humans
Honey badgers often become serious poultry predators. Because of their strength and persistence, they are difficult to deter. They are known to rip thick planks from hen-houses or burrow underneath stone foundations. Surplus killing is common during these events, with one incident resulting in the death of 17 Muscovy ducks and 36 pullets.
Because of the toughness and looseness of their skin, honey badgers are very difficult to kill with dogs. Their skin is hard to penetrate, and its looseness allows them to twist and turn on their attackers when held. The only safe grip on a honey badger is on the back of the neck. The skin is also tough enough to resist several machete blows. The only sure way of killing them quickly is through a blow to the skull with a club or a shot to the head with a gun, as their skin is almost impervious to arrows and spears.
In popular culture
The viral video Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger (click here to view the clip) became a popular Internet meme in 2011, attaining over 40 million views on YouTube as of March 2012. The video features footage from the Nat Geo WILD network of honey badgers fighting jackals, invading beehives, and eating cobras. The video includes a comical voiceover by "Randall" in a vulgar and sometimes exasperated narration, including lines like "Honey badger don't care!"
Did you know?
A honey badger appears in a running gag in the 1989 film The Gods Must Be Crazy II.