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Why honey badgers don't care!

Updated: Apr 6, 2019

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 (see also the 3 short videos below).

honey badger
This honey badger walks away like nothing happened after getting 17 quills in his skin. Photo by Owen Slater.

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 badger location
Honey badgers are found in Africa, Asia and India

Honey badgers 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.

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.

It is said that there is almost no safe way of holding a honey badger that does not want to be held.

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.

How do honey badgers survive snake bites? Are honey badgers immune to venom?

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.

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.

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 honey-guides might follow the badgers rather than the other way around.

Do honey badgers emasculate their prey?

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.

Other animals alleged to have been castrated by honey badgers include wildebeest, waterbuck, kudu, zebra and man. This has also been reported by other African tribes, but no direct evidence exists to support this behaviour.

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. (BBC Masters of Mayhem - 4mins)

What makes a honey badger so tough?

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!


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