How often does a badger change its bed?

A Badger Trust guest article by Alex White

Badgers have fascinated me since I saw my first one at the age of three. The more I learn about them, the more I realise that I don’t really know that much about their lifestyle, especially what goes on underground.

Most people unfortunately only ever get to see a badger dead on the side of the road, but some lucky people have badgers visiting their gardens or, like me, know of a sett where they can watch them go about their day-to-day life.
 
I’ve been lucky enough to see badgers close up on numerous occasions through volunteering with my local badger group for badger vaccination and rescue. The obvious highlight is watching a rehabilitated badger released back into the wild.
 
Through the many hours I’ve spent watching badgers at my local sett I’ve come to respect their intelligence and ingenuity.

“One of the acts that never ceases to bring a smile to my face is watching a badger working its way backwards with a roll of hay being dragged between its front paws. ”

Badgers are clean animals

Anyone who has watched a badger when it first emerges from their sett will notice they spend a few minutes grooming themselves and each other before leaving to forage for the night.
 
Badgers also keep their homes clean and the main part of this chore is making sure the bedding is fresh.
 
Badgers sleep in chambers; being underground the chambers are mostly at a constant temperature, cool in the summer and warm in the winter. These chambers are filled with bedding materials to keep the badger insulated and warm, to keep them off the wet mud and to minimise draughts. The bedding also helps the cubs to survive by keeping them warm as they are born during the winter months.
 
During harsh windy, winter weather I’ve seen my local badgers use bedding to temporarily block exposed entrance holes, especially those facing North East.

What do badgers use for bedding?

Badgers use a variety of materials as bedding, depending on the time of year. Most commonly used is dry grass, leaves, bracken, hay, straw and moss, although I’ve seen them use empty farming seed sacks and seen photos of them using items such as crisp packets and other rubbish.
 
They also use bluebells and other green material during the spring, which as it decays produces heat that can help keep the cubs warm. Garlic leaves are sometimes used which may help remove pests such as fleas, ticks and lice due to the strong smell.

The material can be gathered from up to 100 metres away and, like many activities badgers do, this is done backwards. They use the claws on their front paws to rake up the hay, leaves and other materials, almost rolling it into a ball and then proceed to shuffle backwards with it.
 
A few times a year they will completely replace all the bedding, normally after harvest, before the cubs are born, and in the spring. Michael Clark, author of the book ‘Badgers’, noted that in one case bedding stayed underground for 14 months.

How do badgers keep bedding fresh?

Badgers will regularly ‘air’ parts of their bedding, bringing some of it out into the open, leaving it out close to an entrance hole during a dry, sunny day to kill off pests, before taking back down in the evening. I’ve noticed my local badgers tend to do this around every ten days in the summer.
 
Paraceras melis or the badger flea is one of the reasons badgers ‘air’ their bedding. Badger fleas only jump onto the badgers to feed, mainly living in the bedding. The fleas lay their eggs in the bedding and the act of putting the bedding out in the sunlight kills the eggs and larvae by drying them out.
 
Both male and female badgers do their fair share of collecting and airing the bedding.

 

Find out more about badgers and their behaviour 

The fascinating lives of badgers
Badger watching

 

About Alex White

Alex White is a young naturalist with a passion for British wildlife, especially badgers and hares. His blog, Appleton Wildlife Diary, shares insights into the wildlife where he lives in Oxfordshire UK, and in the places he occasionally visits. He is a member of the Badger Trust affiliated group Oxfordshire Badger Group.

His debut book ‘Get Your Boots On’ contains plenty of tips and advice to get outdoors. Alex and a host of well-known contributors share simple and low-cost ways to enjoy nature.
 

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