Sunday, March 3, 2013

From the Collection: Badgers!

Winter still has its icy, snowy grip on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, so back to the collection we go! Today's topic is the American Badger, Taxidea taxus — not to be confused with the oft-erroneously represented Eurasian Badger, Meles meles, nor the internet-famous Honey Badger, Mellivora capensis.

Like the minks* from the previous collection post, the badger is also a member of the weasel family, Mustelidae. Striking facial markings aside, however, the badger is quite different in appearance from most mustelids. Its body is flat and stocky, and its skull is stout and raccoon-like. Badgers have shaggy fur, a short tail, plenty of loose skin, and long, sharp claws for digging. They carry a fierce reputation, but they are also shy creatures. Unlike the Eurasian Badger, the American Badger is a rather solitary animal; it prefers open grasslands for its habitat. Its southeasterly range does not extend much further than Michigan, but the badger thrives in the prairie and desert habitat to the west and southwest.

I have two American Badger skulls in my collection. Both came from the same source — a taxidermist's shop in the Keweenaw Peninsula. I have a feeling that mammals were not his strong point: he swore the skulls belonged to fishers (Martes pennanti)**, and that "he shot them himself." Neither was professionally cleaned, and they look as if they sat outside for a number of years. With cracks and missing teeth, neither skull is in great condition, but they were only a few dollars apiece, and both have character.

The first badger skull belongs to a middle-aged individual. Though the skull has a strong sagittal crest, the sutures on the rostrum were not yet fused at the time of the animal's death. Obviously, this badger met its end by being shot in the head. Bullets, just like the tire of a car, do an incredible amount of internal damage, and seldom does a bullet leave just a clean, circle-shaped hole in its wake:

The reverse side of the skull shows a gaping hole, though this is not quite as dramatic as the skull's ventral view:

In addition to the cracks spiderwebbing along the braincase, the force of the bullet blew out a large portion of the skull's underside. It's a very quick, violent way to go; it's most likely the badger was trapped and then shot at close range.

The second skull, though missing two of its canine teeth, is in better condition than the first:

This skull came from a much older animal. Though its teeth were not in bad shape at the time of its death, its sutures are completely fused. It's a more robust skull than the first, and measures 5.0" (as compared to the bullet-damaged skull's 4.75").

Here are a few side-by-side views of these two badger skulls:

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Lastly, here is a photo showing the size difference between last entry's mink skull and a much-larger badger skull:

* The identity of the second mustelid skull from the previous entry has not yet been confirmed! There have been a few guesses but the mystery still remains. If you haven't already, share the link with someone who knows their mammals well!

** The fisher will be the next skull I showcase. It, too, was the victim of mistaken identity!

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