The Fearless Honeybadger

Despite their relatively small size, honey badgers are regarded as one of the toughest animals in the bush. What is it that makes these ferocious little creatures so amazing?

It seems that although the reason for this may start with its bad attitude, it doesn’t end there. Game Ranger, Amy Attenborough shares her thoughts.

The Honey Badger: What You Didn’t Know About World’s Most Fearless Creature…

Words: Amy Attenborough at Londolozi Game Reserve

Pictures: Caters News Agency

A honey badger’s courage is backed up by its powerful jaws and limbs, sharp claws and a nearly impenetrable skin. The skin around its neck is thick and loose so that it can turn around and savage whoever may be attacking it. This adaptation allows it to take on enemies much larger than itself including mammals as big as lions.

In Richard Estes’ mammal guide, he reports seeing three honey badgers steal a kill from three sub adult and four half grown lions. I have personally seen an entire pride of 21 lions jump up and run from a dry riverbed when two honey badgers came bursting down the riverbank towards them. A sight that really reinforces how much respect other animals have for these ferocious little critters.

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They are also incredibly resilient to a wide variety of habitats and occur in areas ranging from very dry and arid to very wet. They are found in areas from sea level to as high as 1700 m. They even reportedly swim very well and have been recorded chasing turtles and other sea creatures underwater.

Another thing that honey badgers are well known for is their ability to tear into beehives in order to feast on honey and bee larvae and seem rather impervious to the typically fatal stings of the African bee. It is not something we are sure of but there are reports of a badger reversing up to the opening of the hive and rubbing its anal pouch on the hive. The odour is said to be suffocating and reportedly leaves the bees inactive or causes them to flee. If honey badgers do do this, it can’t be completely fool proof though as there are records of honey badgers who have eventually died from too many stings. Another theory is that honey badgers tend to release this noxious secretion in response to attack and so may actually do so once they are stung by the bees numerous times. Whatever the case, it seems they are fearless enough to tread where no other creatures tend to go.

Another incredible food choice for honey badgers is snakes and not just any snakes but some of Africa’s most venomous and deadly ones, including puff adders and mambas. No one really seems to know how exactly honey badgers manage to survive bites from these various snakes but it has been recorded on numerous occasions. For example, there is footage of a badger being bitten on the cheek by a puff adder, the site swelled up substantially and the badger appeared to pass out for a few hours but it survived the attack and was active again a few hours later and happily finishing off its puff adder meal. An article written a few decades ago also shows evidence of researchers who injected enough black mamba venom into a honey badger that would have killed two oxen and it apparently had no adverse effects on the badger. There is good evidence to suggest that, like other mustelids and viverrids, badgers are less sensitive to venoms than many other mammals. Experts in venom have suggested that honey badgers may develop immunity over their lifetime after numerous small injections of venom from bees, scorpions, and snakes, however we are still unsure as to how exactly it is that they metabolise this in their system.

Not only do honey badgers know that they are incredibly tough, it seems other animals do as well. There is a theory that cheetah cubs are born with the very same black and white markings of the honey badger in an attempt to imitate this small but ferocious creature. Young cheetah cubs are highly vulnerable and cub mortality is high, thus this may be nature’s way of making potential predators think twice before they mess with that small black and white creature.

So next time you come across this ferocious, fearless, and pugnacious little animal with the Guinness Book of World Records title of “World’s Most Fearless Creature,” you know why exactly it is that you should stay well clear of it.

Did you know?

  • One of the honey badger’s greatest defences is to go on the offense, no matter the size of its opponent. A honey badger fluffs itself up when aggravated, bares its sharp teeth and rattles and hisses in its characteristic manner.
  • Honey badgers have an incredibly varied diet, which also includes highly venomous snakes. They will eat anything from puff adders to cobras and even black mambas.

Original re-published with special permission from Londolozi Game Reserve.

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