Kate on Conservation

Meet the honey badger: Guest post by Graham Davis


This week, Graham Davis, Founder of Continental Shift, introduces a legendary animal that I heard many stories about during my time in South Africa. Graham explains that. Africa is home to the most fearless animal! And it probably wouldn’t be in your top 20 suspects!

Meet the honey badger!

What you need to know about this incredible animal and why this seemingly unremarkable looking mammal has been referred to by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most fearless animal in all of the animal kingdom…

What does a honey badger look like?

Despite its name, the honey badger does not closely resemble other badger species; instead, it bears more anatomical similarities to weasels.

They are the largest terrestrial mustelids in Africa. Adults measure up to 28cm (11in) in shoulder height and 55-77cm (22–30in) in body length, with the tail adding another 12–30 cm (4.7–11.8in). Females are smaller than males. In Africa, males can weigh up to 16 kg (35lb) while females weigh up to 10kg (22lb).

Its lifespan in the wild is unknown, though captive individuals have been known to live for approximately 24 years.

Where does a honey badger live?

Honey badgers are found in Africa, Asia and India. They are native to areas of Africa and Asia, from southern Morocco to Africa’s southern tip, and western Asia’s Caspian Sea, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, and western India.

They live mainly in dry areas but are also found in forests and grasslands.

It is primarily a carnivorous species and has few natural predators because of its thick skin and ferocious defensive abilities.

Along with sharp teeth, honey badgers also have incredibly strong jaws and can bite down with enough force to break the shell of a tortoise.

They will stand their ground and mix it with the best of those foolhardy enough to take them on.

How thick is honey badger skin?

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 (1/4 in) thick, an adaptation to fighting.

There are reports of arrows and spears glancing off their thick, rubbery skin, which is also loose enough that, should a honey badger get caught in the mouth of a predator, say a lion, it can writhe around and break loose or even attack the predators face and eyes.

How do honey badgers survive snake bites?

25% of their diet is made up of venomous snakes and they are able to maintain that diet as they are immune to many different types of snake venom.

For instance, alpha-neurotoxins found in cobra snakes cause paralysis, respiratory failure, and death, yet honey badgers have mutated their receptors to defend against this neurotoxin.

So, the honey badger will take the bite, kill the snake, pass out and when it wakes up, eats the snake.

What else does a honey badger eat?

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.

They have been documented exhibiting surplus killing, killing far more than they need to eat causing a huge problem for farmers with one incident resulting in the death of 17 Muscovy ducks and 36 chickens.

Are honey badgers smart?

They are one of the few mammals that have learned to use tools.

They can open gates, roll logs to stand on and regularly escape from zoos. See short video below:

Do Honeyguides lead honey badgers to beehives?

Greater Honeyguide birds (Indicator indicator) are reported to lead badgers to beehives, whereupon the badger breaks open the hive and after feeding, leaves scraps for the bird.

This relationship continues to be a contentious issue amongst ornithologists and has never been comprehensively documented.

This association has never been reported despite seeing badgers break into hives on many occasions in areas where honeyguides also exist.

It is believed that honeyguides might follow the badgers rather than the other way around.

What makes a honey badger so tough?

Honey badgers are reputed to go for the scrotum when attacking large animals. The first published record of this behaviour was a circumstantial account by Stevenson- Hamilton (1947) where a badger reportedly castrated an adult Buffalo.

Where it may lack in overall size, the combination of long, sharp claws, the thick and loose skin, powerful jaws, sharp teeth, stocky strength, agility, superior intelligence and immunity to most venom more than makes up for it.

In addition to this formidable armoury, they have a reversible anal pouch that they can push out when threatened which emits a foul smell to frighten off predators.

The smell of the pouch is said to be “suffocating“, and may have a calming effect when raiding hives of the much feared African bees. They simply don’t see the need to back off!

Graham is the founder of Continental Shift, a seasoned ex-backpacker and has acquired a particular affinity with Africa.  He has since been back many times and each time there has been something new to be gained. He now works with leading African artists and his sales of their work contribute funds towards the active fight against rhino poaching.

Visit https://www.continental-shift.com.

8 thoughts on “Meet the honey badger: Guest post by Graham Davis

    1. Wow, fascinating video — thank you for sharing! They really are a formidable force!

    1. Incredible really! A far cry from the badgers I’m used to seeing in the British countryside!

  1. Fascinating and funny little things, but a bit overly hyped lately. For instance lions do maul and kill them, that video about honey badger taking on 6 lions is about very young lions playing around. There are several videos etc. where lions kill honey badgers. All it takes is one hungry lion or irritated enough and bye bye little guy…. they are grumpy and funny, but not some invulnerable comic book characters.

    1. Hi Ben, thank you for your comment. Absolutely true that honey badgers do get killed by lions; which are of course apex predators, and highly skilled and adapted to prey on others… and pretty darn fearless themselves! I remember a brilliant documentary on Nat Geo years ago that showed lions taking on fully grown adult elephants at night, right up in the middle of the herd! That seemed like a similar kind of fearless/crazy! 🙂

      1. I wonder if that documentary was from Botswana and Savuti. But still luckily elephants are in normal conditions quite safe, what comes to lions. Even though I do like lions, I hate to see elephants hunted, so magnificent animals, but wildlife is wildlife.
        What comes to honey badgers, I like them too and a lot. Still time to time I like to see realism too, while talking about animals. Of course honey badgers give many entertaining moments and they do have quite attitude, which without a doubt save them time to time especially from younger lions. In some cases even inexperienced adults can be so confused, that letting go 🙂 But time to time it looks like some people really start to think, that honey badger would be doing whatever it wants, which isn´t the case after all. But it does all it can to survive in harsh environment and for an animal that size. doing a good job!
        But why I want to bring in time to time other kind of point of view, one reason is for instance wolverine. It is in many places endangered and also has reputation, that it does what it wants. And harsh reality is, that it too knows fear and flees from bears and wolves normally, if not, getting killed very fast. In some cases it can fight, but that isn´t normal way for it. Some people even think, that it could be dangerous for people. That kind of wrong images won´t always make conservation easy, I think, if people think that some animal is so tough, that it can survive anything etc… or that it´s some killing machine massacring other animals all the time.
        A bit long reply now from me, but hopefully opening up a bit why I like to discuss also with down to earth attitude, even though I too have laughed for many honey badgers and like a lot of them.

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