American Badgers: Four-Legged Excavators

Gain an understanding of the many different types of badgers, their relationship to one another and the characteristics that make them unique and allow them to successfully survive.

| November/December 2018

  • Badger family
    Members of the weasel family, American badgers produce a strong musk odor from glands near the anus, which helps deter would-be predators.
    Photo by Getty/Jillian Cooper
  • two badgers by the river
    Badgers feed on small animals, and have no problem capturing their prey.
    Photo by Getty/Dee Carpenter Photography
  • lone scared badger
    When fear strikes, a badger’s first instinct is to head to a burrow to escape harm. When that’s not an option, it will hiss, snarl, growl, and may even charge its assailant.
    Photo by Getty/moose henderson
  • Badger with prey
    Badgers feed on small animals, and have no problem capturing their prey.
    Photo by Getty/Matt Dirksen
  • badger burrow
    Badgers use their sharp claws to construct burrows that can reach depths of up to 10 feet.
    Photo by Getty/CreativeNature_nl

  • Badger family
  • two badgers by the river
  • lone scared badger
  • Badger with prey
  • badger burrow

The American badger (Taxidea taxus) is one of the largest members of the weasel family (Mustelidae) in North America, second only to the wolverine, and it's one of nine species of badgers found worldwide. Its relatives include the Eurasian badger, honey badgers of Africa and Asia, minks, skunks, and ferrets.

Badgers are stocky in stature, with a short, thick neck and short, powerful legs that are armed with long, sharp claws. They have thick brown and black fur, with a distinctive white stripe in the middle of the face and black or brown patches, or "badges," on their cheeks — hence the name "badger." Like other members of the weasel family, American badgers produce a strong musk odor from glands near the anus, which helps deter would-be predators. If you've ever smelled a skunk, you know the smell!

Adult male American badgers grow to about 2 feet long and weigh up to 20 pounds. Females are only slightly smaller, weighing around 15 pounds when
fully grown.

Habits and Habitat

Badgers can be found in central and western Canada, most of the central and western United States, and as far south as central Mexico. While most abundant in prairie regions, they can also be found as far east as the Great Lakes and as far west as the Pacific Northwest; however, these represent the edges of badger distribution, and populations are small and isolated.



Badgers mainly inhabit prairies, farmland, pastures, deserts, and woodland edges. They prefer open areas with soils that provide easy digging, and tend to avoid heavily forested areas where extensive tree roots interfere with their ability to dig. Badgers especially favor areas known as "edges," where two or more different plant communities come together, such as pastures and agricultural fields. Edges harbor high concentrations of potential prey animals. Although it's not common, American badgers have been known to live at altitudes as high as 12,000 feet.

Badgers are digging machines, using their claws to excavate prey animals from their burrows. They also construct numerous, often complex, burrows that can reach depths of up to 10 feet. Females with young may construct several burrows with connected tunnels, providing escape routes and cover for their offspring. These dens may be 2 or 3 feet deep and up to 30 feet long. Their burrows are frequently the enlarged burrows of prey animals they've excavated.

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