Do badgers hibernate in the winter?

Question answered by Bryan Bybee, Biologist, INL ESER Program

The simple answer is that badgers do not hibernate. Hibernation is a seasonal behavior pattern characterized by long periods of reduced body temperature, inactivity, lowered heart and breathing rates, and suppressed metabolism. Body temperatures may be reduced to nearly that of the surroundings. By this definition, badgers are not true hibernators, but like some other mammals in cold areas they may use a winter strategy involving short-term cycles of torpor (a period where they enter a deeper-than-normal sleep, slowing there metabolism to conserve their energy) during severe cold periods. Badgers may stay torpid in their dens for up to 29 hours at a time. During those periods their body temperature will drop and their heart rate will slow to half of its normal rate. Badgers are omnivores (eat both plants and meat). Their diets are made up of mainly small mammals, but will eat ground-nesting birds, eggs, lizards, fish, insects, and some plants. During the winter their food sources may become more difficult to find. Because food is harder to find badger are not as active during the winter months. During the winter badgers may stay in their dens for days without food. On warmer days they may leave their den to search for food. Preparing for the long, cold winter badgers will accumulate fat reserves. They will also store food in their dens.

Badger Claws

A badger uses his long, sharp claws that are shaped like a wedge to dig burrows, just like a knife (wedge) cuts into bread.

Badgers are highly specialized for digging. When burrowing, they use their large claws to dig into the soil. The long claws serve to loosen the soil and pass it backwards where the hind feet kick the soil out behind the digging animal. This dirt is often kicked backwards 6 or 8 feet in an almost continuous arc by a badger digging in earnest. Badgers close their eyes as they dig underground. They rely upon smell and hearing to continue digging towards the prey.

 Simple Machine – The Wedge

A wedge is a simple machine that allows us to split materials apart much more easily then we could do by hand.  It is a triangular tool that is thick on one end and tapers to a thin or sharp edge on the other end. It is made up of two inclined planes joined together.

Experiment with a Wedge

Materials: Bar of soap, plastic knife, paper, paper towel, pencil, scissors

  1. Unwrap the bar of soap.
  2. Trace around the bar of soap onto the paper.
  3. Draw a simple design onto the paper (no larger than the bar of soap).
  4. Cut out the design.
  5. Lay the cut-out design onto the bar of soap and trace around the design.
  6. Turn the bar of soap over and lay the design onto the back side of the bar of soap, placing it in the same location as you did the front.
  7. Place the bar of soap onto a paper towel.
  8. Carefully carve the design out of the soap by first cutting the soap into a block of the design, followed by rounding the edges and finally carving the details.
  9. The soap may be smoothed by rubbing the surface with a small amount of water.

How did the knife make your task easier?  The knife is a wedge.  The narrow edge of the knife blade enters and makes a path for the large part of the knife that follows.  Once an opening is made, the soap is easily pried apart by the gradually widening body of the knife blade. The wedge- shaped claws of the badger help it dig through soil in the same way you carved the soap.

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