National Geographic : 2016 Mar
PHOTO: MARK TAYLOR, NATURE PICTURE LIBRARY “Sex-mad,” roared the headline in the U.K.’s Daily Mail. The news report quoted Sheffield, England, homeowners’ complaints that their “neighbours from hell” were having “noisy late-night passionate encounters outside.” Get a room, Meles meles! Then again, the Eurasian badger’s homemaking may be as disruptive as its lovemaking: It can ruin lawns and undermine buildings as it digs setts, the chamber-and-tunnel systems it calls home. Who knows whether badgers’ favorite pastime is digging or breeding. Clans move tons of earth to create labyrinthine setts; some incorporate tunnels that their fore-badgers dug centuries ago. They pile up leafy bedding (which they regularly change) in chambers used for indoor breeding. During sex, females may yelp, males may emit a cross between a whinny and a purr— and the sound carries. When badgers dug a love nest under a Derbyshire church, “there was much concern over the pungent odours and strange noises that emanated during evensong,” according to the 1996 book Badgers. Flexible as to where they have sex, badgers are also biologically blessed as to when. A female can maintain embryos “in a sort of suspended animation” and delay their implantation in her uterus for months, says wildlife biologist Dez Delahay of the University of Exeter. As a result, badgers can breed all year and still time their babies’ birth to a season when conditions most favor their survival. Only a few mammal species have that reproductive advantage, so Meles meles really does have something to purr about. —Patricia Edmonds HABITAT/RANGE Forests and grasslands, Europe to East Asia CONSERVATION STATUS Least concern OTHER FACTS In England, killing or harming badgers or damaging their setts is an offense punishable by up to six months in prison and $7,500 in fines. Digging Dirt, and Each Other A genteel disquisition on love and lust in the animal kingdom Basic Instincts Badgers place leafy bedding— and change it regularly—in their breeding chambers.