With few natural predators due to its fierce defensive behavior, thick skin, and impressive strength (though not one of the strongest animals in the world), the honey badger is crowned “the world’s most fearless animal” in the Guinness Book of World Records (Edition 2002).
Read on below to access a wealth of valuable information about this magnificent mammal.
What is a honey badger?
Scientific Name: Mellivora capensis
Honey badgers, also known as ratels, are classified in the order Carnivora, the family Mustelidae, and subfamily Mellivorinae. The Mustelid family is rather diverse and includes eight other badger species, weasels, the wolverine, and otters. The honey badger is the only species in the genus Mellivora, as well as in the subfamily Mellivorinae.
Many subspecies of honey badgers have been described over time. In 2005 a total of 12 subspecies were officially recognized by the scientific society. The different subspecies are classified based on 2 major differences:
2. The extent of greyness or whiteness in the back zone.
The 12 subspecies of honey badgers that are recognized as valid taxa include:
1. M. c. Capensis (Cape ratel)
2. M. c. Indica (Indian ratel)
3. M. c. Inaurita (Nepalese ratel)
4. M. c. Leuconota (White-backed ratel)
5. M. c. Cottoni (Black ratel)
6. M. c. Concisa (Lake Chad ratel)
7. M. c. Signata (Speckled ratel)
8. M. c. Abyssinica (Ethiopian ratel)
9. M. c. Wilsoni (Persian ratel)
10. M. c. Maxwelli (Kenyan ratel)
11. M. c. Pumilio (Arabian ratel)
12. M. c. Buechneri (Turkmenian ratel)
Honey badger characteristics
Being the largest terrestrial mustelids found in Africa, honey badgers have long bodies and small eyes.
The body hair is coarse and mostly black in color, with the exception of a gray-white stripe that runs across the back zone, starting from the top of the head and all the way to the tail’s tip.
Their legs are short and sturdy, while their feet are equipped with powerful claws. While the hind legs’ claws are rather short in size, the forelimbs’ claws are impressively long.
Weight: 6.2 – 13.6 kilograms
Tail length: 14 – 23 centimeters
Body Length: 73 – 96 centimeters
Height: 23 – 30 centimeters
Lifespan: up to 26 years in zoos. Lifespan in the wild remains unknown.
Range & habitat
These amazing animals are native to both Asia and Africa. They are mainly found in dry areas, known to inhabit both grasslands and forests.
In Asia, honey badgers are distributed across western India, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and the Caspian Sea region and through the Middle East. In Africa, honey badgers are found from southern Morocco to South Africa.
Honey badgers are solitary animals with big home ranges that overlap with others. Males maintain a home range as large as 500 square kilometers while females tend to have smaller home ranges of around 200 kilometers.
Honey badgers are listed under the Least Concern category of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, so not one of Africa’s most endangered species. Even still, honey badgers are considered rare or at very low densities throughout most of their natural range. The population trend is decreasing, with hunting and trapping. major threats to the survival of these unique mammals.
Honey badgers are omnivores that are not too pretentious about the food on their menu.
Their natural diet consists of lizards, rodents, turtles, frogs, insects, eggs, birds, snakes, tortoises, roots, bulbs, and berries. However, their favorite treat is honey, and bee larvae, hence the name!
Behaviour & lifestyle
Honey badgers are nocturnal creatures, spending most of the day sleeping. Due to their secretive nature, these mammals are extremely difficult to observe in the wild.
They rest in smart-made underground homes, either digging their own burrows of around 2 meters deep and 3 meters long, or taking over burrows already made by other animals – spring hares, yellow mongooses, or bat-eared foxes, among others – and adapting them.
Mostly solitary, ratels have been observed meeting up in foraging grounds, when they sniff each other, roll around, and scent the ground.
8 fun honey badger facts
- The scientific name of the genus Mellivora is of Greek and Latin origin. Meli (Greek) means “honey.” Voro (Latin) means “to devour” or “to eat.”
- One of the distinct physical characteristics of the species is the thick baggy skin on their back, which helps to avoid damage while fighting. When grabbed by the back of their necks, these mammals have loose enough skin to turn around and bite their attacker.
- The honey badgers’ skin is so thick and strong that it can withstand porcupine quills, and bee stings… and possibly makes them resistant to bites from venomous snakes.
- The honey badger has a gland that stores stinky liquid at the base of its tail, much like a skunk. However, the odor does not last as long as a skunk’s stink bomb does.
- Honey badgers curl up into a ball when sleeping during the day. This unusual ball shape helps to protect their belly and face zones from possible intruders.
- Tragically, to protect their beehives, many beekeepers kill honey badgers. Fortunately, there is a growing number of “badger-friendly honey” producers in Africa. These eco-friendly producers secure their beehives by positioning them a few feet higher above the ground than usual, ensuring honey badgers can’t reach the hive, since they cannot jump.
- The oldest honey badger fossil record is dated to c.10 million years ago, and was found in the Ngorora Formation, Kenya.
- Honey Badgers Go Viral, with their very own meme – ‘Honey Badger Don’t Care’.
Honeybadger vs lion
As we hope we’ve managed to convey, honey badgers can be a fearsome foe. Here’s some great safari footage of a honey badger going toe to toe with a family of six lions!
Enjoy learning more about this unique creature? Please do tell us about your ratel experiences in the comment section below. Because those who care share!
1. Wikipedia – Honey Badger
2. The Honey Badger
3. San Diego Zoo Animals and Plants – Honey Badger (Ratel) Mellivora capensis https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/honey-badger-ratel
4. IUCN Red List – Honey Badger https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/41629/45210107
5. Endangered Species: Honey Badger – Author: Sentravis Wilson
6. San Diego Zoo Global Library – Ratel/Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History http://ielc.libguides.com/sdzg/factsheets/ratel/taxonomy