Taxidea taxus, or the American badger to you and me, is one of Oklahoma’s more unique and lesser know mammals. This pow­erful carnivore is actually a member of the weasel family. But comparing a weasel to a badger is like comparing a house cat to Bengal tiger. While they are members of the same family they are too very different animals.

Should you come across a badger, it will be easy to distinguish it from other ground-dwelling mammals in the state. The badger is rather distinctive, growing up to two and a half feet long and weighing as much as 30 pounds. Some have been known to stand 14 inches tall at the shoulder. The loose fitting coat can best be described as a weathered grayish-yellow color. A distinct white stripe runs from the nose, over its head to the shoul­der area. The face also has a white crescent just behind each eye, which runs down and connects under the chin. With a black nose and black patches just in front of the ears, the badger has a “mask” that is similar to raccoons. Badgers have large, muscular front feet with claws up to one inch long; the hind legs tend to be smaller then the front. A robust body makes for a very short neck connected to a head with small eyes and ears, and a mouth full of sharp teeth.

Badgers make their burrows in the arid, open country of the western two thirds of the state, where the loose soil facilitates easy digging. With their long front claws and powerful legs, badgers can excavate a burrow with amazing speed. A threatened badger can completely disappear beneath the ground in a matter of moments. A badger’s burrow tends to be wider than tall and can range anywhere from five to thirty feet long. At the end of the tunnel is a larger “den” room where the badger spends most of its day; this den can also serve as a nursery in early spring. It is a common misconception that badgers use these deep underground burrows to escape the cold of winter and hibernate until spring.

While a badger may sleep through several days of severe weather, they never experience true hibernation.

Badgers are for the most part solitary animals, prefer­ring to be left alone throughout the year except for the mating season, which occurs in late summer or early fall. A badger’s home range can vary from half a square mile to one square mile area. While badgers will fight amongst themselves, they usually try to avoid each other, and will typically respect one another’s space. The same cannot be said of a coyote or bob­cat that tries to make a meal out of one. With sharp teeth, powerful legs, long claws and

a musk that rivals that of a skunk, the badger usually leaves the would-be attacker searching an easier meal.

In July and August the normally reclusive badger becomes much more socially active in the search for a mate. Litters of one to five kits are born in early spring. At birth, the young badgers are covered with a fine hair and their eyes are shut. By September the young have learned to hunt for themselves and begin to separate from the female badger in the search for a territory of their own.

In Oklahoma, badgers are classified as furbearers and may be pursued by hunters or trappers from December 1, 2005 through January 31, 2006, statewide

When it comes to eating, there’s no such thing as a picky badger. Anything that can’t fly, swim or out run a hungry badger is on the menu. Animals such as voles, mice, rabbits and pocket gophers get a false sense of security from their deep under ground lairs. Unless they have many exits, these small burrowers are trapped and easily caught by the furiously digging badger. The rattle­snake also falls on the badger’s long list of edibles.

As with any animal that can fend off coyotes and dines on rattlesnakes, it’s a good idea to leave a badger alone if you come across one in the field. That’s not to say you shouldn’t stop to admire this unique native, and perhaps take a few photos, you just might want to have a zoom lens handy.