The African Honey Badger, world’s most fearless animal

InformAfrica – The Honey badger, also known as ratel, is a tenacious small carnivorous animal that has a reputation for being “Africa’s most fearless animal despite its small size”. It is even listed as the “most fearless animal in the world” in the 2004 Guinness Book of Records.

The Honey badger has a crazy addiction to honey. The fearless animal is so peculiar that it stands out in a separate genus, and a separate subfamily. Official science classifies this predator to the family Mustelidae. (Stock Photo: Animal world)

Breeding Habit of Honey Badgers

Mating and birth of honey badgers take place five or six months, but the immediate pregnancy is probably shorter. The litter honey-badger are two to four babies, conducting his first week in lined with dry vegetation structure. Young animals remain with the mother for a long time, often more than a year. Life expectancy of honey badger in the wild is unknown, in captivity, it is up to 26 years. (Stock photo: Animal world)

In southern Africa, honey badgers do not have a breeding season and cubs are born throughout the year. Contrary to information in some field guides, badgers do not regularly have more than two cubs at a time and in the Kalahari dessert, badgers raised only one cub after a gestation of six to eight weeks. The cubs are born naked and blind in a hole prepared by the female and she will typically move the cub to a new den every two to five days, by carrying the cub in her mouth.

The cub develops slowly with its eyes only opening after two months, and will emerge from the den and accompany its mother on short foraging bouts at three months of age, by which time it has the adult’s black and white colouration. The cub’s mantle is usually far whiter than its mother.

Research in the southern Kalahari dessert showed that cubs stayed with their mothers for a minimum of 14 months, before becoming independent. This is in marked contrast to the Eurasian badger which may become independent at 3 months. This long period of dependency is needed for the cub to learn how to hunt efficiently as digging and climbing require a degree of co-ordination and technique that is lacking in the juveniles for the first eight months.

The Honey badger’s techniques for catching rodents in their extensive tunnel systems and escape holes and killing poisonous snakes require skills that must be learnt from their mothers.

Young Honey badgers may reach an adult size within eight months and a son may be far larger that his mother. When one sees two badgers foraging together in the wild, these are usually a mother and her cub, rather than a “pair”, even when one badger is substantially larger than the other.

Honey Badger’s Eating Habit

In this photo, the Honey badger feeds on an African Puff adder snake. The only place where the snake may bite the Honey badger is its open face. But even if it succeeds, the most powerful venom only causes swelling and overthrows the Honey badger down for a couple of hours. Then the swelling subsides and the honey badger is again ready for battle. (Stock Photo)

Honey badgers are carnivorous animal with an extremely wide diet. More than sixty species of prey were recorded from the southern Kalahari alone. Badgers eat a host of smaller food items like honeybees, insect larvae, beetles, scorpions, lizards, rodents and birds. They will catch the larger reptiles like leguaans, crocodiles (1 meter) and pythons (3meters) and include the highly venomous adders, cobras and black mamba in their diet. Larger mammals like the Springhare, polecat and particularly young foxes, jackals, antelope and wild cats, are also caught.

They locate their prey predominantly by their acute sense of smell and catch most of their prey through digging. As many as fifty holes may be dug in a single foraging period and badgers may cover distances that exceed 40 kilometers in a 24 hour period. Honey badgers are accomplished climbers and can easily climb up into the uppermost branches of trees to raid bird nests or bee hives. In the Kalahari, they have been seen raiding various raptor nests, including the Pale Chanting Goshawk, which is frequently seen in association with badgers.

As their name suggests, badgers have always been associated with honey yet it is the highly nutritious bee brood they eat. While bee brood does not form a necessary part of their diet they will go to great lengths to raid honeybee hives in search of bee brood when it is available(see badgers and bee-keepers) and may cause a lot of damage to apiaries in the process. Badgers will also dig out the larvae belonging to solitary bee species.

In the Kalahari badgers were rarely seen drinking water at the available waterholes, and derived most of their water requirements from their food and from the Tsama melon (Citrullus lanatus) during seasons when they were available.

Honey badgers may also pirate food from other carnivores and will scavenge from the kills of larger animals although they are primarily hunters of their own food.

There appear to be strong regional , seasonal and indvidual differences in diet.

Concluding Facts about The Honey Badger

Honey badgers are well adapted to their digging lifestyle and have a powerful and stocky build, with no external ears, a broad muscular back, bowlegged front legs and formidable fore claws that may reach 40mm in length.

It’s not called a honey badger because of its sweet nature. The honey badger of the Kalahari, is so fierce it is officially listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most fearless animal on earth.

Scientific name: Mellivora capensis (Schreber, 1776)
Common names: Honey badger, ratel, honey ratel.

VIDEO 1: Honey Badger-The Most Fearless Animal on Earth

VIDEO 2: A Leopard Kills an Old Female Honey Badger


Colleen & Keith Begg are currently studying honey badgers in Niassa Reserve in northern Mozambique. Their aim is to do a comparative study of honey badger in a different environment to rthe southern Kalahari. In particular they are interested in looking at home range size, diet and litter sizes of honey badgers in a wetter environment. In addition they are investigating the relationship between the honey badgers and traditional honey gatherers and beekeepers. Results will be posted. 

Colleen is a research fellow of the Mammal Research Institute, University of Pretoria, South Africa. 

This African Honey Badger page will be updated constantly as new information on the world’s fearless animal becomes available.

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