Badger buries a dead cow

The American Badger (Taxidea taxus) is a carnivore in the family Mustelidae, which includes weasels, otters, and ferrets. Badgers were known to prey on moles, squirrels, mice, and other small mammals, often digging into their dens to nab them.

Badgers have also been reported to bury their prey underground. But what was not known, and is now reported by a journal and by National Public Radio (NPR), is that badgers will bury big carcasses killed by others—in this case, cows placed in the desert by Americans. Here’s part of what NPR said:

University of Utah researchers placed seven cow carcasses in Utah’s Great Basin Desert, and set up cameras to learn about the behavior patterns of local scavengers.

But a week later, researcher Evan Buechley returned to one of the sites and found no sign of the cow.

“And my first reaction was to be fairly disappointed,” he told The Two-Way. After all, it takes a lot of effort to drag a 50-plus-pound cow through the desert. Buechley explained that he thought maybe a coyote had taken the cow away.

This video shows a time-lapse sequence of the five-day burial (they could have done without the music!). And here’s my ode to the badger:

This is a busy badger:
He works both day and night;
Round and round the cow he digs,
Till the beast is out of sight,

More from NPR:

. . . .The video shows the badger working day and night for five days. Then, it built a den connected to the carcass and did not surface often.

“So it worked overtime for five days like really, really intensely, and then it just had a two-week feeding fest,” Buechley added.

. . . It’s the first time an American badger (Taxidea taxus) has been documented burying an animal larger than itself, the researchers said in a press release. Their findings were recently published in Western North American Naturalist.

What’s more, when Buechley went to check the next carcass, he found that it had also been almost entirely buried by a different badger. The foot remained tied to a stake, but otherwise it was “mostly buried,” he said.

The press release gives more details (e.g., the badger didn’t leave the food den once for two weeks and then kept coming back for several more weeks); the reference to the original paper (free access) is below.

25 Comments

  1. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted April 6, 2017 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Best use of “Benny Hill” theme – evah.
    (For those not acquainted with Benny Hill, you’re missed nothing. not a thing. Things which are not.

    • Posted April 6, 2017 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      I disagree. I would have used “She works hard for her money” or “9 to 5”

      If only there was a dinosaur that had this behavior. We’d have a lot more complete dino skeletons to enjoy!

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted April 6, 2017 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

        I was thinking from the other end of the gramophone horn. I think Benny Hill went out of favour before either of those records.
        I note that the hard-working badgeress works night and day – a damned sight more than 9 to 5.

        • ratabago
          Posted April 6, 2017 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

          Oh she’s a badger and she’s OK,
          she digs all night and she digs all day.

          She digs down deep, to bury meat
          –it takes her hours and hours
          The bits that don’t get eaten
          –will fer-til-ize the flowers

          ————————-
          No prizes for guessing the tune this doggerel should be set to.

  2. Posted April 6, 2017 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    “…it takes a lot of effort to drag a 50-plus-pound cow through the desert.”

    A calf? Dwarf cow?

    • Posted April 6, 2017 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      I saw a report of this elsewhere — calves were used in the expt., not adult cattle.

  3. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted April 6, 2017 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    As awesome as badgers are, even this surprises me.

  4. nickswearsky
    Posted April 6, 2017 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    That little fella really hit it big, didn’t he?

  5. Oro Lee
    Posted April 6, 2017 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Hole-y Cow!

  6. Sean
    Posted April 6, 2017 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Would the existence of behaviors like this alter the expected fossilization rate in ancient fauna?

    • Posted April 6, 2017 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      I wondered the same thing

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted April 6, 2017 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      Let’s hope they don’t bury any rabbits in Precambrian sediments.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 6, 2017 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      Fossils of “infauna” (organisms that live inside an environment – such as in burrows, or bored into a rock) are certainly well represented in the record. Whether they’re over-represented compared to other lifestyles … a much harder question. Very likely, the data just isn’t preserved. How do you know there are no other preservation biases for other habitats in your data set?
      Generations of geology students have had to answer exam questions about “design your ideal index fossil”, and a point often raised in the classroom is “would living (and dieing) in a burrow be a good thing for likelihood of preservation (and hence commonness of fossil)”? Which certainly scores a point in any fair marking scheme.

  7. Heather Hastie
    Posted April 6, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    This is so cool! The badger must have been thrilled to find a dead calf in his/her territory too. Talk about feeding the animals!

  8. Posted April 6, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always admired badgers, but this is something else!

  9. Posted April 6, 2017 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Linguistic clarification. City people tend to use “cow” to refer to any bovine animals of any age or gender, except that very young animals, nearly newborn, might be called calves. On the farm, the language is more precise.

    Cow = bovine that has given birth.

    Bull = male bovine, with

    Bull-calf is often used for very young bulls.

    Calf = young bovine, even up to a year or more, with gender not specified.

    Heifer = female that has not given birth. This term is applied from birth to the time the animal gives birth at about 2 years of age.

    Steer = castrated male bovine, mainly used for ones raised for meat.

    Ox = castrated male bovine, mainly used for ones used as beasts of burden.

    Cattle = plural for bovine animals, gender and age unspecified.

    Limitation of the farm lexicon: there is no one general term for a single bovine animal that doesn’t specify age or gender.

    The animal buried by the badger is clearly a calf.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 6, 2017 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      Limitation of the farm lexicon: there is no one general term for a single bovine animal that doesn’t specify age or gender.

      An opportunity to bring back “aurochs”.

  10. bonetired
    Posted April 6, 2017 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Five days? Won’t the cow be a little bit pongy by then – especially in Utah ? Or doesn’t the badger really mind – ie is its digestive system capable of taking in meat that is a bit manky ?

    • Draken
      Posted April 6, 2017 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      If they’re known to bury their prey, they must evidently have a strong stomach.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 6, 2017 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      pongy

      “gamey”, “rich”, “flavoursome” … I can’t carry on, which is a sign of my culinary simplicity. If only there were a Francophile professor of flies’ noses who could add 20 terms from the home of “high” cuisine …
      British traditional recipe for preparing pheasant (as I was trying to run one down earlier). First catch your pheasant (and escapre from the gamekeeper). Tie a bit of string around the pheasant’s neck and hang it from a nail in your garden shed. Check each morning. The morning that the neck has rotted through and dropped the carcass to the ground, then it’s pheasant for dinner!

  11. grasshopper
    Posted April 6, 2017 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Burying the dead is a huge undertaking, but our badger wasn’t cowed.

  12. Posted April 7, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm… Must be the badger version of kimchee.


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