The Honey Badger, also known as the Ratel, is a species of mustelid native to Africa, South-west Asia and the Indian sub-continent. Despite its name, the Honey Badger does not closely resemble other species., instead, it bears more anatomical similarities to weasels. It is classed as “least concern” by the ICUN, owing to its extensive range and general environmental adaptations. It is, primarily, a carnivorous species and has few natural predators because of its thick skin and ferocious defensive abilities.
RATEL is an Afrikaans word, possibly derived from the Middle Dutch word for ‘rattle’, ‘honeycomb’ (either because of its cry or its taste for honey). The Honey Badger is the only species of the genus Mellivora. Although in the 1860s, it was assigned to the badger sub-family —— the Melinae.. The Honey Badger can be regarded as another analogous form of outsized weasel or polecat.
It 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 thick, an adaptation to fighting conspecifics. The head is small and flat and the ears are little more than ridges on the skin, another possible adaptation to avoiding damage while fighting. It has short and sturdy legs with 5 toes on each foot. The feet are armed with very strong claws, which are short on the hind legs and remarkably long on the forelimbs. The tail is short and is covered in long hairs, save from below the base. There are 2 pairs of mammae. The Honey Badger possesses an anal pouch which, unusual among mustelids, is ‘eversible’, a trait shared with hyenas and mongooses. The smell of the pouch is ‘suffocating’ and may assist in calming bees when raiding beehives. The skull is very solidly built. The brain-case is broader than that of dogs.
Although it feeds predominantly on soft foods, the Honey Badger’s cheek teeth are often extensively worn. The canine teeth are short for a carnivore. The tongue has sharp backward-pointing papillae which assist it in processing tough foods.
The ‘winter fur’ is long and consists of sparse, coarse bristle-like hairs lacking underfur. Hairs are even sparse on the flanks, belly and groin. The ‘summer fur’ is shorter and even sparser with the belly being half bare. The sides of the head and lower body are pure black in colour. A large white band covers the upper body, beginning from the top of the head down to the base of the tail.
Although mostly solitary, Honey Badgers may hunt together in pairs during the May breeding season. Little is known of the badger’s breeding habits. Its gestation period is thought to last 6 months, usually resulting in 2 cubs, which are born blind. The cubs vocalise through plaintive whines. Its lifespan, in the wild, is unknown, though captive individuals have been known to live for approximately 24 years. —— They live alone in self-dug holes. They are skilled diggers, able to dig tunnels into hard ground in 10 minutes. These burrows, usually, have one passage and a nesting chamber and are only 1-3 metres long. They do not place bedding in the nesting chamber. Though they dig their own burrows, they may take over disused aardvark and warthog holes or termite mounds.
Honey Badgers are intelligent animals and are one of the few species known to be capable of using tools. In the 1997 documentary series —– Land Of The Tiger —– a Honey Badger, in India, was filmed making use of a tool, the animal rolled a log and stood on it to reach a kingfisher stuck up in the roots coming from the ceiling in an underground cave. Honey Badgers are notorious for their strength, ferocity and toughness. Bee stings, porcupine quills and animal bites rarely penetrate their skin. Because of the toughness of their skin, it is hard to penetrate it and its looseness allows them to twist and turn on their attackers when held. The only safe grip on a Honey Badger is on the back of the neck. The skin is tough enough to resist machete blows. The voice of the Honey Badger is a hoarse ‘khrya-ya-ya-ya sound. When confronting dogs, a Honey Badger screams like a bear cub.