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Rarely seen badgers slow their digging frenzies as winter approaches

The badger is generally nocturnal and spends most of its life underground. (Courtesy photo)
The badger is generally nocturnal and spends most of its life underground. (Courtesy photo)
By Bruce Auchly Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Badgers are native to prairies in Montana and parts of Idaho and Washington, so why are they so rarely seen?

The badger might leave holes in wheat country, but it’s a carnivore. A meat eater. That means mostly ground squirrels but also rabbits, reptiles and insects. No vegetables on a badger’s menu.

It roams from the central and western Canadian provinces south into central Mexico. It especially likes grassland communities and open plains.

The badger looks like no other mammal of the region’s prairies. Built low to the ground with short, muscular legs and massive curved front claws, it’s a digging machine. It can even dig faster than fleeing prey.

According to “The Wild Mammals of Montana” by Kerry Foresman, badgers will dig new dens almost daily during the summer searching for food. Females will also move several times during the spring and summer using many maternal dens.

As fall approaches the digging frenzy slows and by winter they settle into a single den.

In winter, badgers spend long periods underground in a state of torpor that’s not exactly hibernation, but it does slow down their heart rate and reduces their body temperature.

Mostly nocturnal when active, badgers’ home ranges stretch from less than a quarter of a mile to almost a mile and a half, depending on food and habitat.

Considering the animal is underground a lot and active, perhaps, half the year at night, it’s easy to see how it could escape human detection in a rural area.

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