Honey badgers have a reputation that precedes them. Found mostly in Africa and Southwest Asia, they are known to be nasty or ferocious, but more often than not their reputation comes from their sheer tenacity and fighting spirit. Honey badgers can and will fight anything that is in its territory, making would-be predators steer clear of them in favor of more docile prey.
Here are some amazing facts about these incredible animals.
1. Honey badgers have loose, tough skin
They are literally aggressive, tank-like creatures. Their skin is so thick that they are immune to stings, arrows, spears, and machetes. Predators have a hard time biting through to subdue them – if a honey badger is grabbed by a predator, it can turn around in its loose skin to attack the predator’s face and fight back. Honey badgers have sharp teeth and claws that they use to defend themselves from danger and to dig holes in the ground, and their fur is so thick and coarse it protects them from bee stings and snake bites.
Honey badgers also have an anal gland that excretes an offensive smell, like skunks. Unlike skunks, however, honey badgers use their anal gland scent as a form of attack as well as defense, chasing away predators and animals that they steal food or shelter from.
2. Honey badgers have incredibly strong jaws
If a honey badger bites something, almost nothing can be done to make it let go. Its jaw can almost never be dislocated. On top of this strength, honey badgers also have the ability to see well in the dark, good hearing and a strong sense of smell – this with their ferocity and utter lack of fear means they can fight almost anything and win. Honey badgers can chase away young lions from their prey, raid the hives of killer bees for honey and even survive the bite of a king cobra to kill and eat it. If a honey badger is bitten by a venomous snake and the fangs succeed at piercing its skin, all it has to do is sleep to recover from the venom.
3. Honey badgers are called the “ratel” in Africa’
When honey badgers are excited or agitated, they make a sound that sounds like a rattle. Ratel also means honeycomb in Dutch, which is one of their favorite foods. Funny enough, honey badgers aren’t actually badgers – they are actually more like weasels and their closest relative is the wolverine. Whatever they are, they are definitely formidable creatures that are capable of tricking and escaping from predators and captors alike. When a honey badger is encountered in the wild, the general rule of thumb is to leave it alone.
4. Honey badgers literally don’t care
Honey badgers often go crashing about their habitat looking for food to sustain their high metabolism. This often alerts prey to their presence, but the lack of stealth also aggravates predators on the hunt. Honey badgers have a few main predators – lions, hyenas, leopards, pythons and humans. When a honey badger is threatened by a predator, it will bluff, growl and charge its way out of the situation, sometimes succeeding at warding off entire lion prides.
5. Honey badgers prefer to be alone, unless they’re with their mothers
Honey badgers are solitary creatures, similar to weasels. They usually only spend time with other honey badgers when mating. When honey badger kits are born, they continue to live with their mothers until sexual maturity.
Adult honey badgers on average weigh about 12 kg and can grow to 75 cm in length. With their bushy tails, they can strike an imposing figure to predators and prey alike. They live for up to 8 years in the wild, but in captivity they have lived up to 24 years.
6. Honey badgers dig deep and sometimes borrow the burrows of other animals
Honey badgers have large paws and strong legs that help them dig deep holes very quickly. They use these holes to hide from predators or to sleep in, but they also dig holes to find food like termites and other insects. If they don’t feel like sleeping in their own burrows, they sometimes make homes out of other animal dens, opting to sleep in fox tunnels, aardvark dens, mongoose burrows or pretty much anywhere else they find acceptable.
Honey badgers are diurnal, which means they are active during dawn and dusk. However, they can adjust their sleep pattern to become nocturnal in highly populated areas – usually this is done to avoid humans.
7. Honey badgers are named for their love of honey
But they also eat just about anything. Their favorite foods are honey and honeybee larvae, to the point of being persecuted by beekeepers because they break into beehives. They also eat amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and insects, and their diverse palate includes consuming berries, fruits, bulbs and roots. They actively hunt their prey but will also scavenge for carrion.
8. Honey badgers are not endangered, but their population is decreasing
Honey badgers are listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List as they are widespread and their population is relatively healthy. However, they are hunted and killed in certain areas by farmers and beekeepers due to their invasive scavenging nature. They are also hunted for their meat and parts for the bushmeat and traditional medicine trade.
Honey badgers are part plantigrade – like bears, they walk on their tiptoes instead of their whole foot.
Honey badger teeth and jaws are so strong they can bite through turtle shells.
Honey badgers can reverse their anus to shoot stinky liquid that repels predators and incapacitates prey. It is said that this scent can calm beehives, which makes it easy for them to get their favorite foods, honey and honeybee larvae.
Honey badgers have been known to dig up human corpses in India – they really do eat anything and everything. They also attack poultry, small livestock animals and sometimes even children.
Honey badgers are a major reservoir of rabies in Kenya.