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.