A badger is a burrowing carnivorous mammal in the family Mustelidae. The creatures are related to weasels and otters, among others in this large animal family. Several different species of badger are found across the Northern hemisphere in a range of environments, from open plains to heavily wooded areas. In Britain, badgers are the largest living carnivorous animal, and they are protected by law, out of a desire to preserve England's natural heritage.
Several characteristics are shared across all badger species. The animals are stocky and heavily built, with muscular clawed forearms designed for digging. Badgers range in color, with grizzled, brown, black, and gray animals, but all of them have distinctive white stripes running down their faces. The badger is known for being extremely protective and rather fierce, and the animals will defend young and dens at all costs, even fighting or harassing much larger animals.
The burrow of a badger is known as a set. A single badger may live alone in a solitary territory in some species, while others form loose colonies of up to 15 individuals. Not much is known about the mating habits of badgers; the gestation period appears to be around seven months, and the animals seem to bear multiple young in some cases. Different species have slightly different mating habits and gestation periods. In cold regions of the world, badgers go to ground during the winter, emerging in spring when conditions are more favorable.
The diet of badger species varies. Many badgers eat a wide assortment of small animals such as rats, mice, insects, and birds, if they can catch them. Others supplement a meat-based diet with plants and honey; many badgers appear to be quite fond of honey, actually. The long front claws of a badger can be used to attack threatening animals, bring down prey, and dig, making them excellent multi-use tools. When the animals get going, they can dig extremely rapidly, even outstripping a fit human with a shovel.
Popular fiction and mythology includes badgers on occasion. The animals have a distinctive look, and their determined loyalty and bravery are often themes in stories about badgers. Some authors also associate the badger with England and British society, since the animals enjoy a uniquely protected status in Britain. The badger is the state animal of Wisconsin, and the animals romp in the mythology of many Asian nations as well.