Honey Badger

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Mellivora capensis

  • SWAHILI NAME: Nyegere

Honey badgers (also called ratels) resemble their relatives—weasels, otters, and other badgers—but have the distinctive coloring of a skunk. Fearless and fierce, the honey badger is one of the toughest animals in Africa.

Honey Badger

Honey Badger



Daily Rhythm




Life span

In the wild: 26.4 years
In captivity: 26.5 years

Conservation Status

Lower risk


Male: 18 to 25 lb (8.0 to 11.2 kg)
Female: 11.5 to 16.0 lb (5.2 to 7.1 kg)


Male: 14 to 17 in (35 to 43 cm) high at shoulder
Female: 13 to 15 in (32 to 37 cm) high at shoulder

Honey Badger

Tracks and Scat

Tracks: Front track is dog-like; back track more elongated; gray area indicates size of track if whole foot leaves a print.
Scat: Cylindrical, dark in color; may contain seeds

Honey Badger tracks

Trivia Question

What sense do honey badgers use to find bees?


Honey badgers use their sensitive hearing to detect the buzzing sound of beehives.

Social Structure

Honey badgers are solitary. When they do meet, males have a loose hierarchy where older males outrank younger ones. Small groups of two to five males may stick together to look for females.


Like many mustelids, honey badgers communicate using smell. Their noses are highly sensitive, and they use secretions from their anal glands to repel predators and mark their territory. They can even use these stink bombs to stun a swarm of bees! With ears enclosed within thick skin near the back of the head, honey badgers have difficulty hearing long-range sounds through the air. However, they’re adept at picking up hints of vibrations and sounds coming from underground and inside trees. Vocal communication is important. Males have a “rattle-grunt” they use in aggressive situations, young use a high-pitched “squeal-rattle” when interacting with older males, mothers and cubs have a purr, and all honey badgers use a “rattle-roar” to intimidate predators.


Since they are active at night, honey badgers rest during the day, curled up in a ball to protect their heads and bellies. They are not territorial and often select a new burrow for resting each day. They can dig one themselves, use an available tree trunk, cave, or termite mound, or take over a burrow used by an aardvark, fox, or mongoose. When awake, the honey badger seldom picks fights it can’t win. Thick, loose skin around its neck allows it to rotate its head and bite any attacker. The skin also protects it from bee stings and snakebites (they also may have some immunity to venom), and a stink gland at the base of the tail emits an offensive smell to keep away unwanted company.


The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists honey badgers as a species of lower risk, due to their ability to adapt to and survive in a wide range of situations. Primary threats come from humans. Unfortunately, honey badgers feel just as free to help themselves to farmers’ beehives as they do to wild ones, which causes tension between humans and honey badgers. They are also sometimes hunted for bush meat and for use in traditional medicine.

Range & Habitat

Honey badgers live in most parts of Africa, except in the central Sahara, the Namib Desert, along the Mediterranean coast, and in the lower Nile Valley.

Honey badgers can live anywhere from sea level to elevations as high as 13,000 feet (4,000 m) and in habitats ranging from rain forests to deserts—except the driest parts of the Sahara and the dunes of the Namib.


To sate voracious appetites, honey badgers eat nearly everything in their environment. Their diet includes insect larvae, scorpions, highly venomous snakes and other reptiles, young foxes, jackals, wildcats, birds, turtle eggs, and rodents. Honey badgers tend to hunt alone. They use their strong forelegs and long claws to pry apart termite mounds, dig for insect larvae, and open beehives. They are often found where honey is produced—thus their name—although they’re interested in the bee larvae not the honey. They also scavenge and steal food from other animals, stashing their prizes to eat later. They appear to be quite resourceful. To help them reach food sources in high places, honey badgers in India have been observed moving and stacking rocks.


Genetic studies show that a male fathers only about half the cubs born within his home range, indicating that honey badgers are fairly promiscuous. Mating takes place any time of year and occurs in a burrow over a course of several days, with the male physically preventing the female from leaving. But males have no part in raising the young. A single cub is born in a burrow after a gestation period of 50 to 70 days. The mother moves her cub to a new burrow every three to eight days. Young stay with their mothers until they are about 12 to 18 months old.

Friends & Foes

Other carnivores often follow honey badgers on a hunt. Animals such as jackals and goshawks follow them and catch rodents that escape when a honey badger is digging. Its striking colors warn would-be predators that a honey badger is not an easy meal. When threatened, the badger faces its enemy, produces a rattle-roar, stands its hair on end, emits a stink bomb, and then charges. This display, combined with the badger’s sheer strength and a tough, loose hide that makes getting a firm grip difficult for an attacker, usually causes the predator give up and go looking for an easier meal.

Population in Kenya & Beyond

Honey badgers are nocturnal in nature and don’t congregate in groups, two traits that make them hard to count. Unlike other animals active at night, their eyes don’t shine in the dark, which makes finding—and counting—them even more difficult.

Honey Badger

Did you know?

Young cheetah cubs have a mantle of silvery hair down their backs that, by mimicking a honey badger’s coloration, may help scare off predators.