Badger, the common name for any animal of the Musteline subfamily Melinae or the typical genus Meles (see Carnivora). The name is probably derived from "badge," device, on account of the marks on the head; or it may be identical with the term separately noticed below, the French blaireau being used in both senses. The members of the typical genus have the lower jaw so articulated to the upper, by means of a transverse condyle firmly locked into a long cavity of the cranium, that dislocation of the jaw is all but impossible, and this enables those creatures to maintain their hold with the utmost tenacity. The European badger (Meles taxus or M. meles) is from 25 in. to 29 in. long, with a tail of about 8 in.; the general hue of the fur is grey above and black on the under parts; the head is white, with a black stripe on each side. In habits it may be taken as typical of the subfamily. It is nowhere abundant, but is found over the northern parts of Europe and Asia, and is a quiet, inoffensive animal, nocturnal and solitary in its habits, sleeping by day in its burrow, and issuing forth at night to feed on roots, beech-mast, fruits, the eggs of birds, small quadrupeds, frogs and insects.
It is said also to dig up the nests of wasps in order to eat the larvae, as the ratel - a closely allied South African form - is said to rob the bees of their honey. The male and female are seldom seen together, and are supposed to trace each other by the odour of the secretion in the anal glands. Fossil remains of the badger have been found in England in deposits of Pleistocene age. In eastern Persia this species is replaced by the Persian badger (M. canescens); two species - the white-tailed badger (M. leucurus) and the Chinese badger (M. chinensis) occur in eastern Asia; and another (M. anacuma) is found in Japan. The American badger (Taxidea americana) ranges over the greater part of the United States, and in habits closely resembles the European species, but seems to be more carnivorous. When badgers were more abundant than they now are, their skins, dressed with the hair attached, were commonly used for pistol furniture. They are now chiefly valued for the hair, that of the European badger being used in the manufacture of the best shaving-brushes while the softer hair of the American species is employed for the same purpose, and also for painters' pencils, and the fur is used for articles of ladies' apparel and trimmings.
The Malay badger (Mydaus meliceps) is confined to the mountains of Java (where it is called the teledu), Sumatra and Borneo. The head and body are about 15 in. long, and the tail no more than an inch; the fur is dark brown, with the top of the head, neck and a broad dorsal stripe, white. Like the skunk, this animal can eject the foetid secretion of the anal glands. The sand-badgers (Arctonyx) are Asiatic; the best-known species (A. collaris) ranges from the eastern Himalayas to Burma; the smaller A. taxoides is found in Assam, Arakan and perhaps in China; and there is probably another in Tibet. In these the tail is much longer in proportion to the body than in the rest of the group.
The badger does not usually seek to attack, but, when driven to bay, its great muscular power and tough hide render it a formidable antagonist. The cruel sport of badger-drawing was formerly popular throughout Great Britain, but was prohibited about the middle of the 19th century, together with bear-baiting and bull-baiting. The badger-ward, who was usually attached to a bear-garden, kept his badger in a large box. Whenever a drawing was arranged, bets were made as to how many times the dog, usually a bull-terrier, would draw the badger, i.e. pull it out of its box, within a given number of minutes. As soon as the dog succeeded in doing this the animals were parted, often by the attendants biting their tails, and the badger was again shut up in his box, which, at a signal from the time-keeper, was again opened. Another method of baiting this animal is thus described in the Encyclopaedia of Sport: "They dig a place in the earth about a yard long, so that one end is four feet deep. At this end a strong stake is driven down. Then the badger's tail is split, a chain put through it, and fastened to the stake with such ability that the badger can come up to the other end of the place.
The dogs are brought and set upon the poor animal who sometimes destroys several dogs before it is killed." The colloquial "to badger" (i.e. worry or tease) is a metaphorical derivative, and "drawing a badger" is similarly used in a figurative sense.