Washington, Apr 2 (PTI) In a first, scientists have observed an American badger bury an entire calf carcass by itself, a finding which suggests that badgers may have no limit to the size of animal they can cache.
While badgers and their relatives are known to cache food stores, this is the first known instance of a badger burying an animal larger than itself.
“We know a lot about badgers morphologically and genetically, but behaviourally there’s a lot of blank spaces that need to be filled,” said Ethan Frehner, from University of Utah in the US.
“This is a substantial behaviour that wasn’t at all known about,” said Frehner.
The team had equipped seven calf carcasses a with camera traps to document what scavengers visited which carcasses.
They had hoped to learn more about the ecology of scavengers in the Great Basin during the winter.
After a week, one of the carcasses was found to be missing.
“Right on the spot I downloaded the photos. We didn’t go out to study badgers specifically, but the badger declared itself to us,” said Evan Buechley, doctoral candidate at University of Utah.
Little was previously known about badger behaviour, Frehner said.
“They’re an enigmatic species. A substantial amount of their lifetime is spent either underground or a lot of nocturnal behaviour, so it’s hard to directly observe that,” he said.
Camera traps, a relatively new tool for researchers, made it possible to observe more natural behaviours.
In the photos, Buechley saw the badger dig around and beneath the carcass, which disappeared into the cavity created by the excavation.
“Watching badgers undertake this massive excavation around and underneath is impressive. It’s a lot of excavation engineering they put into accomplishing this,” said Frehner.
Camera trap records show that the badger completely buried the roughly 50-pound carcass over the course of five days, and then spent around two weeks in his underground burrow before leaving and intermittently returning to the burrow for the next few weeks until early March.
According to the researchers, badgers cache food to isolate it from other scavengers and to keep it in an environment where it will last longer.
Previously, biologists saw badgers caching rodents and rabbits, but never an animal larger than itself.
Another badger, at another site in the same study, also attempted to bury a calf carcass, suggesting that the behaviour is likely widespread for badgers.
The study was published in the journal Western North American Naturalist.
This is published unedited from the PTI feed.