47            American Badger

                          MELES LABRADORIA.--SABIENE.
                                [Taxidca taxus]

                                AMERICAN BADGER.

                              PLATE XLVII.--MALE.

     Supra fusco-ferruginea; infra, subalbida; capite, fascia longitudinale
alba; cruribus et pedibus nigris.

     Colour above, hoary-yellowish-brown; a broad white longitudinal line
dividing the head above into two equal parts; dull white, beneath; legs and
feet, black.


     CARCAJOU, Button, tom. vi., p. 117, pl. 23.
     COMMON BADGER, Pennant's Arctic Zoo., vol. i., p. 71.
     BADGER, Var. B. AMERICAN, Penn. Hist. Quad., vol. ii., p. 15.
     URSUS TAXUS, Schreber, Saugeth., p. 520.
     URSUS LABRADORIUS, Gmel., vol. i., p. 102
     PRAROW, Gass, Journal, p. 34.
     BLAIREAU, Lewis and Clarke, vol. i., pp. 50, 137, 213.
     TAXUS LABRADORICUS, Long's Expedition, vol. i., p. 261.
     MELES LABRADORIA, Sabine, Franklin's First Journey, p. 649.
     AMERICAN BADGER, Harlan, F., p. 57.
     AMERICAN BADGER, Godm., vol. i., p. 179.
     BLAIREAU D'AMERIQUE, F. Cuvier, Hist. Nat. des Mamm.
     MELES LABRADORIA, Richardson, F.B.A., pl. 2.
     MELES LABRADORIA, Waterhouse, Trans. Zool. Soc., London, vol. ii, p. 1,
       p. 343.


     There is a very striking difference between the teeth of this species and
those of the European Badger, (Meles vulgaris;) besides which, the present
species has one tooth less than the latter on each side in the lower jaw.  We
have ascertained, by referring to three skulls in our possession, that the
dentition of the American Badger corresponds so minutely with the scientific and
accurate account given of it by WATERHOUSE, in the Transactions of the Zool.
Society of London, vol. ii., part 5, p. 343, that we are willing to adopt his
     He says:  "The subgeneric name, TAXIDEA, may be applied to the American
Badger, and such species as may hereafter be discovered with incisors
                                                                       6 ;

         1-1 ;
              false molars
                           2-2 ,
                                 the posterior false molar of the lower jaw,
with an anterior large tubercle, and a posterior smaller one; molars
                                                                       2-2 ; the
carnassiere and the grinding molars of the upper jaw each of  a triangular form,
or nearly so, and about equal in size.  The modification observable in the form
of the molars of the upper jaw of TAXIDEA, furnishes us with an interesting link
between MEPHITIS and MELES, whilst the former of these genera links the Badger
with MUSTELA and its subgenera."
     The body of this species is thick, heavy, flat, very broad and fleshy, and
its whole structure indicates that it is formed more for strength than speed.
     Head, of moderate size, and conical; the skull, between the ears, broad,
giving it somewhat the appearance of a pug-faced dog.  Tip of the nose, hairy
above, cars, short, and of an oval shape, clothed on both surfaces with short
hairs; whiskers, few, not reaching beyond the eyes.  The fur on the back is (in
winter) three inches long, covering the body very densely; on the under surface
it is short, and so thin that it does not conceal the colour of the skin.  There
is, immediately below the tail, a large aperture leading into a kind of sac.
Although there seems to be no true glandular apparatus, this cavity is covered
on its sides by an unctuous matter; there is a second and smaller underneath, in
the midst of which the anus opens, and on each side of the anus is a pore from
which an unctuous matter escapes, which is of a yellow colour and offensive
smell.  Legs, short; feet, robust, palmated to the outer joint; nails, long and
strong, slightly arched, and channelled underneath toward their extremities;
palms, naked.  The heel is well clothed with hair; the tail is short, and is
covered with long bushy hairs.


     Hair on the back, at the roots dark-gray, then light-yellow for two-thirds
of its length, then black, and broadly tipped with white; giving it in winter a
hoary-gray appearance; but in summer it makes a near approach to
yellowish-brown.  The eyes are bright piercing black.  Whiskers, upper lips,
nose, forehead, around the eyes, and to the back of the head, dark
yellowish-brown.  There is a white stripe running from the nose over the
forehead and along the middle of the neck to the shoulder.  Upper surface of
ear, dark brown; inner surface and outer edge of ear, white; legs,
blackish-brown; nails, pale horn-colour; sides of face, white, which gradually
darkens and unites with the brown colour above; chin and throat, dull white; the
remainder of the under surface is yellowish-white; tail, yellowish-brown.
     We have noticed some varieties in this species.  In one of the specimens
before us the longitudinal white line does not reach below the eyes, leaving the
nose and forehead dark yellowish-brown.  In two of them the under surface of the
body is yellowish-white, with a broad and irregular longitudinal line of white
in the centre; whilst another and smaller specimen has the whole of the under
surface pure white, shaded on the sides by a line of light yellow.


     A male in winter pelage.                                   Inches.

     From point of nose to root of tail, .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  21
     Tail, (vertebrae,).  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   4
     Tail to end of hair, .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   6 1/2
     Nose to root of ear, .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   3 5/8
     Between the ears, .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   4
     Height of ears,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   1 1/4
     Breadth of ears,  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   1 3/8
     Length of head,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   4 5/8
     Breadth of body,  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  10 1/2
     Length of fore-leg to end of claw,  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   7 3/4
                              Weight, 16 1/2 lbs.

     A living specimen,
       (examined in a menagerie at Charleston, S. Carolina.)    Inches.

     Length of head and body,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  30
     Length of tail, (vertebrae,)  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   5
     Length of tail to end of hair,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   7 1/2
     Breadth of body,  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  12
     Heel to end of nail, .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   4
                                Weight, 23 lbs.

     A stuffed specimen in our collection.                      Inches.

     Length of head and body,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  31
     Length of tail, (vertebrae,)  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   5 1/2
     Length of tail to end of hair,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   7 1/2
     Length of heel to end of nail,.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   4 1/2


     During our stay at Fort Union, on the Upper Missouri River, in the summer
of 1843, we purchased a living Badger from a squaw, who had brought it from some
distance to the Fort for sale; it having been caught by another squaw at a place
nearly two hundred and fifty miles away, among the Crow Indians.  It was first
placed in our common room, but was found to be so very mischievous, pulling
about and tearing to pieces every article within its reach, trying to dig up the
stones of the hearth, &c., that we had it removed into an adjoining apartment.
It was regularly fed morning and evening on raw meat, either the flesh of
animals procured by our hunters, or small birds shot during our researches
through the adjacent country.  It drank a good deal of water, and was rather
cleanly in its habits.  In the course of a few days it managed to dig a hole
under the hearth and fire-place nearly large and deep enough to conceal its
body, and we were obliged to drag it out by main force whenever we wished to
examine it.  It was provoked at the near approach of any one, and growled
continuously at all intruders.  It was not, however, very vicious, and would
suffer one or two of our companions to handle and play with it at times.
     At that period this Badger was about five months old, and was nearly as
large as a full grown wood-chuck or ground-hog, (Arctomys monax.)  Its fur was
of the usual colour of summer pelage, and it was quite a pretty looking animal.
We concluded to bring it to New-York alive, if possible, and succeeded in doing
so after much trouble, it having nearly made its escape more than once.  On one
occasion when our boat was made fast to the shore for the night, and we were
about to make our "camp," the Badger gnawed his way out of the box in which he
was confined, and began to range over the batteau; we rose as speedily as
possible, and striking a light, commenced a chase after it with the aid of one
of the hands, and caught it by casting a buffalo robe over it.  The cage next
day was wired, and bits of tin put in places where the wooden bars had been
gnawed through, so that the animal could not again easily get out of its prison.
After having become accustomed to the box, the Badger became quite playful and
took exercise by rolling himself rapidly from one end to the other, and then
back again with a reversed movement, continuing this amusement sometimes for an
hour or two.
     On arriving at our residence near New-York, we had a large box, tinned on
the inside, let into the ground about two feet and a half and filled to the same
depth with earth.  The Badger was put into it, and in a few minutes made a hole,
in which he seemed quite at home, and where he passed most of his time during
the winter, although he always came out to take his food and water, and did not
appear at all sluggish or inclined to hibernate even when the weather was so
cold as to make it necessary to pour hot water into the pan that was placed
within his cage, to enable him to drink, as cold water would have frozen
immediately, and in fact the pan generally had a stratum of ice on the bottom
which the hot water dissolved when poured in at feeding-time.
     Our Badger was fed regularly, and soon grew very fat; its coat changed
completely, became woolly and of a buff-brown colour, and the fur by the month
of February had become indeed the most effectual protection against cold that
can well be imagined.
     We saw none of these animals in our hunting expeditions while on our
journey up the Missouri River, and observed only a few burrowing places which we
supposed were the remains of their holes, but which were at that time abandoned.
We were informed that these animals had burrows six or seven feet deep running
beneath the ground at that depth to the distance of more than thirty feet.  The
Indians speak of their flesh as being good; that of the one of which we have
been speaking, when the animal was killed, looked very white and fat, but we
omitted to taste it.
     Before taking leave of this individual we may remark, that the change of
coat during winter from a hairy or furry texture to a woolly covering, is to be
observed in the Rocky-mountain sheep, (Ovis montana,) and in other animals
exposed in that season to intense cold.  Thus the skin of Ovis montana, when
obtained pending the change from winter to summer pelage, will have the outside
hairs grown out beyond the wool that has retained the necessary warmth in the
animal during the cold weather.  The wool begins to drop out in early spring,
leaving in its place a coat of hair resembling that of the elk or common deer,
thus giving as a peculiarity of certain species a change of pelage, quite
different in character from the ordinary thickening of the coat or hair, common
to all furred animals in winter, and observed by every one, for instance, in the
horse, the cow, &c., which shed their waiter coats in the spring.
     We had an opportunity in Charleston of observing almost daily for a
fortnight, the habits of a Badger in a menagerie; he was rather gentle, and
would suffer himself to be played with and fondled by his keeper, but did not
appear as well pleased with strangers; he occasionally growled at us, and would
not suffer us to examine him without the presence and aid of his keeper.
     In running, his fore-feet crossed each other, and his body nearly touched
the ground.  The heel did not press on the earth like that of the bear, but was
only slightly elevated above it.  He resembled the Maryland marmot in running,
and progressed with about the same speed.  We have never seen any animal that
could exceed him in digging.  He would fall to work with his strong feet and
long nails, and in a minute bury himself in the earth, and would very soon
advance to the end of a chain ten feet in length.  In digging, the hind, as well
as the fore-feet, were at work, the latter for the purpose of excavating, and
the former, (like paddles,) for expelling the earth out of the hole, and nothing
seemed to delight him more than burrowing in the ground; he seemed never to
become weary of this kind of amusement; when he had advanced to the length of
his chain he would return and commence a fresh gallery near the mouth of the
first hole; thus he would be occupied for hours, and it was necessary to drag
him away by main force.  He lived on good terms with the raccoon, gray fox,
prairie wolf, and a dozen other species of animals.  He was said to be active
and playful at night, but he seemed rather dull during the day, usually lying
rolled up like a ball, with his head under his body for hours at a time.
     This Badger did not refuse bread, but preferred meat, making two meals
during the day, and eating about half a pound at each.
     We occasionally saw him assuming rather an interesting attitude, raising
the fore-part of his body from the earth, drawing his feet along his sides,
sitting up in the manner of the marmot, and turning his head in all directions
to make observations.
     The Badger delights in taking up his residence in sandy prairies, where he
can indulge his extravagant propensity for digging.  As he lives upon the
animals he captures, he usually seeks out the burrows of the various species of
marmots, spermophiles, ground-squirrels, &c., with which the prairies abound;
into these he penetrates, enlarging them to admit his own larger body, and soon
overtaking and devouring the terrified inmates.  In this manner the prairies
become so filled with innumerable Badger-holes, that when the ground is covered
with snow they prove a great annoyance to horsemen.
     RICHARDSON informs us that early in the spring when they first begin to
stir abroad they may be easily caught by pouring water into the holes, the
ground at that time being so frozen that the water cannot escape through the
sand, but soon fills the hole and its tenant is obliged to come out.
     The Badger, like the Maryland marmot, is a rather slow and timid animal,
retreating to its burrow as soon as it finds itself pursued.  When once in its
snug retreat, no dexterity in digging can unearth it.  RICHARDSON states that
"the strength of its fore-feet and claws is so great, that one which had
insinuated only its head and shoulders into a hole, resisted the utmost efforts
of two stout young men, who endeavoured to drag it out by the hind-legs and
tail, until one of them fired the contents of his fowling-piece into its body."
     This species is believed to be more carnivorous than that of Europe, (Meles
taxus.)  RICHARDSON states that a female which he had killed had a small marmot
nearly entire, together with some field-mice, in its stomach, and that it had at
the same time been eating some vegetables.  As in its dentition it approaches
the skunk, which is very decidedly carnivorous in habit, we should suppose that
its principal food in its wild state is meat.
     From November to April the American Badger remains in its burrow, scarcely
ever showing itself above ground; here it passes its time in a state of
semi-torpidity.  It cannot, however, be a very sound sleeper in winter, as not
only the individual which we examined in Charleston, but even that which we kept
in New-York, continued tolerably active through the winter.  During the time of
their long seclusion they do not lose much flesh, as they are represented to be
very fat on coming abroad in spring.  As this, however, is the pairing season,
they, like other animals of similar habits, soon become lean.
     The American Badger is said to produce from three to five young at a
     Several European writers, and among the more recent, GRIFFITH, in his
Animal Kingdom, have represented the Badger as leading a most gloomy and
solitary life; but we are not to suppose from the subterranean habits of this
species that it is necessarily a dull and unhappy creature.  Its fat sides are
certainly no evidence of suffering or misery, and its form is well adapted to
the life it is destined to lead.  It is, like nearly all our quadrupeds,
nocturnal in its habits, hence it appears dull during the day, and cannot endure
a bright light.  To a being constituted like man, it would be a melancholy lot
to live by digging under ground, shunning the light of day, and only coming
forth under the shadow of night; but for this life the Badger was formed, and he
could not be happy in any other.  We believe that a wise Providence has created
no species which, from the nature of its organization, must necessarily be
miserable; and we should, under all circumstances, rather distrust our
short-sighted views than doubt the wisdom and infinite benevolence of the

                           GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION.

     The American Badger has a very extensive range.  It has been traced as far
north as the banks of Peace River, and the sources of the River of the
Mountains, in latitude 58 degrees.  It abounds in the neighbourhood of
Carlton-House, and on the waters that flow into Lake Winnepeg.
     LEWIS and CLARK, and TOWNSEND, found it on the open plains of the Columbia,
and also on the prairies east of the Rocky Mountains.
     We have not been able to trace it within a less distance from the Atlantic
than the neighbourhood of Fort Union.  To the south we have seen specimens,
which were said to have come from the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, in
latitude 36 degrees.  There is a specimen in the collection of the London
Zoological Society, the skull of which was described and figured by WATERHOUSE,
that was stated to have been received from Mexico.  It is probable that the
Flacoyole of FERNANDEZ, which was described as existing in Mexico, is the same
species.  There is also another specimen in the museum of the Zoological Society
of London, that was brought by DOUGLASS, which is believed to have come from
     It is very doubtful whether it exists on the eastern side of the American
     We are not aware that it has ever been found either in upper or Lower
Canada, and we could obtain no knowledge of it in our researches at Labrador.

                                GENERAL REMARKS.

     The difference between the European and American species of Badger is so
great that it is unnecessary to institute a very particular comparison.  Our
species may be distinguished from that of Europe by its muzzle being hairy
above, whilst it is naked in the other; the forelimbs are stouter, and the claws
stronger; its head is also more conical in form.  The European species has more
conspicuous ears; it has three broad white marks, one on the top of the head,
and one on each side, and between them are two broad black lines, which include
the eyes and ears; and the whole of the throat and under-jaw are black; whilst
the throat and lower-jaw of the American species are white; there is also a
broad white patch separating the black colours between the sides of the forehead
and ear.  There are several other marks of difference which it is unnecessary to
particularize, as the species are now universally admitted to be distinct.
     Sabine supposed the American Badger to be a little the smallest.  There is
a considerable difference among different individuals of both species, but we
have on an average found the two species nearly equal in size.  Mr. SABINE's
American specimen was a small one, measuring two feet two inches in body.
BUFFON's specimen was two feet four inches.  One of ours was two feet seven.  On
the other hand, SHAW gives the length of head and body of the European species
as about two feet.  FISCHER in his synopsis gives it as two and one-third, and
CUVIER as two and a half.  We have not found any European specimen measuring
more than two feet six inches.
     It was for a long time supposed, and was so stated by BUFFON, that there
was no true species of Badger in America; that author, however, afterwards
received a specimen that was said to have come from Labrador, which was named by
GMELIN after the country where it was supposed to be common.  The name
"Labradoria" will be very inappropriate should our conjectures prove correct,
that it is unknown in that country.  BUFFON's specimen had lost one of its toes;
hence he described it as four-toed.  GMELIN, Who gave it a scientific name, made
"Palmis tetradactylis" one of its specific characters.
     SCHREBER first considered the American as a distinct species from the
European Badger; CUVIER seems to have arrived at a different conclusion; SHAW
gave tolerably good figures of both species on the same plate, pointing out
their specific differences; and SABINE entered into a minute comparison.
RICHARDSON (F.B.A.) added considerably to our knowledge of the history and
habits of the American Badger; and our esteemed friend, G. R. WATERHOUSE, Esq.,
has given descriptions and excellent figures of the skull and teeth, in which
the distinctive marks in the dentition of the two species are so clearly pointed
out, that nothing farther remains to be added in that department.
     We have compared specimens of the Blaireux of LEWIS and CLARK found on the
plains of Missouri, with those obtained by TOWNSEND near the Columbia, and also
with specimens from the plains of the Saskatchewan in the Zoological museum, and
found them all belonging to the same species.