This popular subject of Western and Southwestern folklore is most often associated with open range or agricultural lands. Badgers ( Taxidea taxus) exist throughout Kansas. They are scarce in heavily wooded areas of the state, especially in the southeast, and are probably most abundant in central Kansas where the combination of prey and open land are most suitable.
The badger is the largest terrestrial member of the weasel family in Kansas, often weighing 15 to 20 pounds. It has a broad and flattened body and short, powerful legs. Its large forefeet are webbed and equipped with long, curved claws. Pelage coloration includes distinct black and white facial markings and a grizzled gray body with black legs and feet. The badger’s size, strength, and aggressive retaliatory behavior make it a formidable opponent for most potential predators, and have earned it the reputation as one of our fiercest mammals.
The badger is physically well equipped for a lifestyle that revolves around digging and is the most fossorial of Kansas furbearers. Badger dens or burrows are conspicuous, consisting of a large mound of dirt piled around a 10- to 12-inch- diameter hole. Most excavations are in pursuit of prey, but natal dens are specifically constructed. The young are usually born in April or May after a winter arrest in embryonic development known as delayed implantation. From one to five young are born, with three or four being average.
Solitary except during July and August when mating occurs, even badgers with overlapping home ranges tend to avoid each other through scent marking and aggression. Badgers may range over several square miles, but significantly limit their movements during the winter months. Though not true hibernators, they will remain denned for several weeks or more during periods of extreme cold, when excavating prey from frozen ground would burn more calories than could be gained.
The badger’s diet consists mainly of underground-dwelling rodents or other small mammals that can be dug out of their nests or burrow systems. The badger uses its keen sense of smell to locate prey, then digs a series of holes until the prey is restricted enough to be captured. Badgers are often associated with colonial rodents such as prairie dogs or ground squirrels, but also prey heavily upon pocket gophers, mice, and voles. Rabbits, birds, eggs, insects, reptiles, and amphibians are also taken opportunistically. The badger’s foraging activity proves valuable for many species of wildlife that lay claim to unoccupied badger dens, and the rodent control provided by badgers is often beneficial to man. However, the large holes left behind provide a minor threat to livestock and farm equipment, and badgers can be very destructive in alfalfa fields where dense rodent populations often exist. As a result, they are viewed unfavorably by many agricultural producers in Kansas.
The badger is of minor importance to the Kansas fur trade in recent times, though pelt prices have more than doubled over the past two seasons. Annual harvests of 800 to 1,000 have been typical. Although badgers can be hunted, this is not usually an effective means of harvest or management. Nearly all harvested badgers are trapped, either at den entrances or incidental to coyote trapping.