It was all caught on camera to the unexpected wonder of a team of University of Utah researchers – a badger burying a cow over a span of almost a week. This unusual behavior has piqued researchers’ interests, mainly because cows, even the younger ones, could sometimes weigh several times heavier than comparatively tiny badgers.
According to Badger.org, adult badgers could measure anywhere between 30 to 35 inches (75 to 90 cm) in length from the tip of their nose to their tails. These wide-bodied creatures could weigh about 12 pounds (5.4 to 7.3 kg), though there are times when badgers could reach weights of over 20 pounds (9.1 kg) in the late fall. That’s because they bulk up during this time, with the layers of fat they gain giving them sustenance during the winter months.
Cattle, on the other hand, could weigh anywhere from 1,000 to 1,800 pounds (454 to 816 kg), depending on their sex and breed. DairyMoos.com notes that dairy cows tend to be much smaller, though a calf would normally weigh 85 pounds at birth. That still makes them far more massive than the heaviest badger in adulthood.
The huge discrepancy in size is what makes these reports of a badger burying a whole cow so intriguing. As Gizmodo related, badgers bury animals to protect them from being stolen by other predators, and much like people would use a refrigerator – to preserve their food. Typically, badgers bury rabbits, rodents, and other smaller animals, but the report stressed that this was the first time a badger had been observed burying a larger object or animal. Moreover, due to the sheer size of the cow, that was able to keep the badger well-fed for months on end.
What’s also amazing is that the University of Utah researchers who spotted the badger burying a cow weren’t specifically looking for badgers. Their study focused on how scavengers in Utah’s Great Basin behave in the winter months and involved the researchers placing seven calf carcasses in the Grassy Mountains in January of last year. The calves were staked to the ground and set up with camera traps so that the researchers could view any scavengers that would chance upon the carcasses.
One week later, researcher Evan Buechley made his way to one of the Grassy Mountain sites and found that one of the dead calves was nowhere to be found. He had first theorized that it might have been a larger predator, such as a coyote or mountain lion, that made away with the cow carcass. After finding no such sign of these animals, he theorized that the carcass might have simply gotten lost, but what he discovered after downloading the photos from the camera came as an absolute shock.
“Right on the spot I downloaded the photos. We didn’t go out to study badgers specifically, but the badger declared itself to us.”
Further analysis of the photos revealed that the male badger buried the cow over a span of five days, digging dirt and covering it up until it was completely covered. As mentioned, this act was made impressive by the fact that the calf may have been about three to four times larger than the badger that buried it.
After burying his meal, the male badger spent a few days in his den, then would revisit the burial site and pick away on the cow carcass, doing so until early-March.
Also, Buechley and his colleagues found another calf, this time buried completely except for one of its legs sticking out. According to the Guardian, the camera trap revealed that it was a completely different badger that buried this second calf.
“The second one was really informative because it meant it wasn’t a one-off, freak behaviour,” said Buechley in an interview with the Guardian.
An abstract of the study detailing how badgers bury cows can be found in the journal Western North American Naturalist.
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