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The honey badger ranges throughout Africa south of the Sahara, in the Middle East, on the Arabian Peninsula, through Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, eastward as far as India and Myanmar. They avoid the driest deserts and tropical forested areas of their range, although they can be found in a wide range of habitat. They have been found in elevations ranging from sea level to 1700 m, from dry grasslands to moist deciduous forest. They prefer broken hilly country with plentiful shelter.

Physical Appearance

The honey badger is a medium-sized carnivore. It's body is similar in build to the Eurasian badger (Meles meles), except their legs are longer. They have a broad, round head with a short, thick muzzle. They have very small eyes, and no external ears. Their paws are equipped with long, strong, curved claws that can be up to 4 cm in length. They are plantigrade, and their gate has been describe as slow and clumsy. Honey badgers have anal glands in a pouch near the opening of the anus, similar to hyenas and mongooses. Females have two pairs of mammae. There is no apparent sexual dimorphism.

The honey badger has a very unusual color pattern. The underside is dark brown to black, with a silvery grey to white cape (sometimes called a "mantle"), from just above the eyes straight back over the shoulders, along the side of the body and around to the base of the tail. Most have lighter-colored or white line that runs laterally from the crown of their skull along the sides of the body to the rear legs, separating the light and dark halves. Some individuals have a darker mantle, especially older animals. The lightest part of the mantle is at the head, and it fades over the body as it reaches the rump. Totally black honey badgers have been reported from the forests of western Africa and in northern Zaire.

Like other similarly colored animals, their coloration serves as a warning, which is certainly not a bluff. The honey badger is notoriously aggressive.


Honey badgers are opportunistic feeders. They are mostly carnivorous, but will eat plant matter occasionally. They have been known to feed on small mammals, birds and their eggs, small to medium-sized reptiles, frogs, fish, carrion, insects and larvae, berries, fruits, roots, tubers, and melons. As their name suggests, they do feed on honey, and will raid bee's nests to feed on the honey as well as the bee's larvae. Their genus name, Mellivora, means honey-eater in Latin (melli- means honey, and -vore means to eat). Their actual diet varies with geography and season, depending largely on what prey items are available to them.

They will not usually chase down prey, but prefer to forage instead. They use their powerful claws to unearth insects, larvae, scorpions, spiders, and small burrowing animals like mice, turtles, snakes, lizards and frogs. They primarily use their sense of smell to locate prey, but will listen over ventilation holes for sounds of movement.

The Honey Badger and the Greater Honey guide (Indicator indicator)

There exists an unusual symbiotic relationship between the greater honey guide (Indicator indicator) and the honey badger, that is mutually beneficial. Neither is dependent on the other species for survival, however, as honey and bee larvae do not constitute a significant portion of the honey badger's diet in most areas of its range. It is an interesting relationship nonetheless.

When the greater honey guide sees a potential follower, such as a humans, baboons, or a honey badger, they utter a unique series of calls that attracts the animal to follow it to a source of honey. The badger breaks open the nest, which allows the honey guide to feed on the larvae and wax from the nest that it otherwise would not be able to do.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Little is known about the reproductive habits of this species, and the available data is inconsistent. The gestation period is given as about 6 months in several references. Two zoos report gestation periods of 153 and 162 days, which would indicate delayed implantation. Reports from Africa and Israel indicate that the gestation period is 6-8 weeks. They do not appear to have a fixed breeding season, and since they cover such an extensive geographic range, the breeding season, time of birth, and even the gestation period likely varies depending on geography.

The most complete report of the honey badger's life cycle comes from the work of Colleen and Keith Begg from the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa. They found litters of no more than 2, and specifically in the Kalahari only a single cub was raised. Reported litter sizes from other sources state 1-4 cubs. The variance in reported litter sizes likely has to do with food availability. Cubs are born devoid of hair and with their eyes closed. Their eyes open at 5 weeks old, and at this time they have their adult coloration. In the meantime, the mother will move her cubs to a new den as often as every 2-5 days. They come above ground after 3 months, and begin to approach adult size at 8 months. Age of sexual maturity is unknown. Young often stay with their mother for over a year before dispersing. (source: Badgers.org.uk)

Social Behavior

The honey badger is a solitary animal. However, small groups of up to 5 individuals have been observed foraging together. Though this is usually a mother and her young, small groups of males have been reported to forage together, although groups of females have never been observed. They are reportedly nocturnal, but have been seen active during the day. Their actual social interaction is very poorly studied.

Female badgers have a home range averaging 139 sq km, and males' home range averaging 638 sq km. There is some overlap in the boundaries, but the badgers usually avoid each other. A male's territory may overlap with several females'. They will mark prominent features in their territory with secretions from their anal glands, but do not appear to mark boundaries. They also use latrines located throughout their home range.

Though they certainly are not agile climbers, they do climb rough-barked trees to get to bee hives. It is reported that when they descend from a tree they simply drop rather than climb down. They are known to swim rather well, and will go into the water after turtles and fish. They like to somersault down steep slopes, seemingly in play, like otters.


The honey badger has a reputation as a tenacious and fearless animal, which is well-deserved. They have no natural enemies. They will fight back with their powerful jaws and claws, as well as using the pungent excretion from their anal glands to deter predation. Few animals will altercate with a full grown honey badger. They also have loose, thick skin that makes them hard to grasp. They will attack animals many times larger than themselves, including sheep, horses, buffaloes, wildebeest and waterbuck. They will even charge larger predators, such as lions, to get to their kills.


M. c. abyssinica -- Ethiopia
M. c. brockmani -- Somalia
M. c. buchanani -- from the Air region of Niger
M. c. capensis -- Namibia and South Africa
M. c. concisa -- Lake Chad
M. c. cottoni -- Ituti, Zaire
M. c. inaurita -- foothills of southern Nepal
M. c. indica -- western India and southwest Turkestan
M. c. leuconota -- West Africa north to southern Morocco
M. c. maxwelli -- Kenya
M. c. pumilio -- Southern Arabia
M. c. sagulata -- Tanzania
M. c. signata -- Sierra Leone
M. c. vernayi -- Botswana
M. c. wilsoni -- Southwest Iran and Iraq