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Badgers are nocturnal mammals, and as such are rarely seen during the day. They have black-and-white-striped faces, black fur on their legs and grey bodies. The head and body length is about 750mm (30"), and their tails are 150mm (6"). The average weight of a badger is 8-9kg (17-20lb) in the spring, and 11-12kg (24-26lb) in the autumn. Meles meles, the Latin name for the badger, puts it into the weasel family. Badgers have long strong claws on their front feet designed for digging. A badger has the ability to move a boulder weighing 25kg (55lb). Badgers will indulge in playful romping, which helps to strengthen their social bonds.
Badgers are found in Europe and through to Japan and southern China. In Britain, they are most abundant in south west England, Wales and small areas of north east England, and they generally prefer forest and grassland. It is estimated that there are about 42,000 social groups of badgers in Britain, made up of 250,000 adults which produce around 172,000 cubs a year, of which approximately 50-70% die in the first year of life. Approximately two-thirds of adult badgers die each year. Road traffic accidents are a major cause of death. The maximum life expectancy of a badger is about 14 years, though few survive that long (90% die before the age of seven).
Badgers lie up in a sett when they are not active. A sett is a system of underground tunnels and nesting chambers. These setts are used by successive generations of badgers, and average 125-375 acres (50-150 hectares). The boundaries of the territories are marked out with odour and are well-defended by the badgers who live there. Badgers often carry their nesting material out of the sett during the day to be aired. They live in social groups of four to 12 adults and only one female badger in a social group normally breeds.
Badger Reproduction and Diet
Badgers reproduce by a method known as delayed implantation. They can breed at any time of the year. This is to ensure that young are produced at a time when temperature and food conditions are at their best. After mating, a female badger (sow) keeps the fertilised eggs in her uterus in a state of suspended development until they are implanted in the uterine wall, usually after ten months. After an additional gestation period of seven to eight weeks, the female gives birth to a litter of one to six cubs, which are usually born in February.
Badger cubs emerge from the sett when they are about nine or ten weeks old. Cubs become independent of their mother by around the following autumn, and are fully mature by the age of two years.
Badgers are carnivores by classification yet are omnivores by habit. Their diet consists mainly of earthworms, but includes frogs, rodents, birds, eggs, lizards, insects, bulbs, seeds and berries. Blackberries and apples are major food sources in the autumn.
Badgers are protected by quite a few laws in Britain. A licence is required by anyone who needs to deliberately kill or trap badgers. Badger-baiting (using dogs to fight a badger) has been outlawed since 1835, and digging for them was made illegal by the Badgers Act 1973. The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 combines badger legislation and makes it an offence to damage, destroy or obstruct badger setts, as well as protecting the badger itself.