Honey badger (Mellivora capensis)

Adult honey badger foraging
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Honey badger fact file

Honey badger description

GenusMellivora (1)

A stocky, robust and rather ferocious animal, the honey badger, which is the only species within the Mellivora genus, has very distinct markings. Most of the body is covered in straight, coarse black or dark brown hairs, but a wide strip of wiry grey and white hairs, known as the mantle, runs from the crown of the head to the base of the tail in adults. On some individuals, a pure white band separates the mantle, which becomes darker with age, from the black underparts. The tail is bushy and covered in the same straight, coarse hairs of the body, and ends in a grey or white tip. The muscular, stocky neck and shoulders, together with the broad forefeet and large powerful claws, make light work of digging for small prey. The hind feet are much slighter with smaller claws (2).

Named for its apparent taste for honey, the honey badger is often seen raiding African honey bee nests, although it is in fact also after the juicy developing grubs of the bees and not just the honey. This species is also known as the ‘ratel’, an Afrikaans word for ‘rattle’, as it is known to make a rattle-like cry (2).

Average male body length: 98 cm (2)
Average female body length: 91 cm (2)
Male shoulder height: 39 cm (3)
Female shoulder height: 35 cm (3)
Male weight: 9 – 14 kg (4)
Female weight: 5 – 10 kg (4)

Honey badger biology

The honey badger is typically a solitary forager with a varied, mostly carnivorous diet. Small mammals make up the majority of prey, but honey badgers have also been known to eat reptiles, including venomous snakes, and small birds. Insect grubs, insects, and scorpions are also an important part of a honey badger’s diet at certain times of the year (7), and roots, bulbs, berries and fruits may also be consumed (2). The contents of bee hives are also a major food source, which the honey badger reportedly tackles by using its anal glands to fumigate the bees, causing them to either flee or become inactive, and then its powerful claws to break up the hive (8) (9).

Unlike closely related species, (10), male honey badgers have huge home ranges that overlap and include the smaller home ranges of up to thirteen females. This behaviour relates to its polygynous mating system, where one male will mate with multiple females (11).

Although the honey badger generally lives a solitary life, a female honey badger is often accompanied by a single cub which is completely dependant on her. The single young is born in a burrow, dug by the honey badger, after a gestation period of no more than 50 to 70 days. The female raises the young alone for 12 to 16 months, at which time the cub becomes independent. Due to the long period for which the young is dependent on the female, birth intervals are longer than 12 months, and no distinct breeding pattern exists within this species (12).


Honey badger range

The honey badger is widely distributed throughout Africa south of the Sahara, the Arabian Peninsula, Western Asia and the Indian Peninsula (5).


Honey badger habitat

The honey badger may be found in a vast diversity of habitats, from harsh scrublands and savannahs to lush tropical rainforests. It is a very opportunistic creature and so is able to survive in most conditions (6).


Honey badger status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Honey badger threats

This species is currently not considered to be at risk of extinction (1). However, in some areas the honey badger is being trapped and snared by poachers, small livestock farmers, and, due to the damage it can inflict on bee hives, bee farmers (1) (8). The skin and claws are also used in traditional medicine, as they are believed to confer the fearlessness and ferocity of the honey badger (1).


Honey badger conservation

The honey badger is found in a number of protected areas, such as national parks, throughout its range and in some countries it is protected by law (1). To reduce conflict between bee farmers and this species, it has been recommended that bee hives are secured at least one metre above ground, which can dramatically reduced the amount of damage inflicted by the honey badger (1) (6).

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View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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For further information on the conservation of the honey badger see:



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This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


Anal glands
Small sacs located either side of the anus that secrete a foul-smelling liquid.
Feeding on flesh.
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Home ranges
The areas occupied by animals during routine activities, which are not actively defended.
Animals in which males have more than one female partner.


  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2010)
  2. Vanderhaar, J.M. and Hwang, Y.T. (2003) Mellivora capensis. Mammalian Species, 721: 1-8.
  3. Begg, C.M., Begg, K.S., Du Toit, J.T. and Mills, M.G.L. (2005) Spatial organization of the honey badger Mellivora capensis in the southern Kalahari: home-range size and movement patterns. Journal of Zoology, 265: 23–35.
  4. Neal, E. and Cheesman, C. (1996) Badgers. Poyser Natural History, London.
  5. Harrison, D.L. and Bates, P.J.J. (1991) The Mammals of Arabia. Harrison Zoological Museum Publication, Kent.
  6. Hashim, I.M. and Mahgoub, K.S. (2007) Abundance, habitat preference and distribution of small mammals in Dinder National Park, Sudan. African Journal of Ecology, 46: 452–455.
  7. Begg, C.M., Begg, K.S., Du Toit, J.T. and Mills, M.G.L. (2003) Sexual and seasonal variation in the diet and foraging behaviour of a sexually dimorphic carnivore, the honey badger (Mellivora capensis). Journal of Zoology, 260: 301–316.
  8. Kingdon, J. (1977) East African Mammals. Volume IIIA. Academic Press Ltd, London.
  9. Shorrocks, B. (2007) The Biology of African Savannahs. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  10. Powell, R.A. (1979) Mustelid spacing patterns: variations on a theme by Mustela. Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie, 50: 153–165.
  11. Begg, C.M., Begg, K.S., Du Toit, J.T. and Mills, M.G.L. (2003) Scent-marking behaviour of the honey badger, Mellivora capensis (Mustelidae), in the southern Kalahari. Animal Behaviour, 66: 917–929.
  12. Begg, C.M., Begg, K.S., Du Toit, J.T. and Mills, M.G.L. (2005) Life-history variables of an atypical mustelid, the honey badger, Mellivora capensis. Journal of Zoology, 265: 17–22.

Image credit

Adult honey badger foraging  
Adult honey badger foraging

© Nick Garbutt / naturepl.com

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