The Honey Badger, also known as the ratel, is a formidable creature with an impressive reputation of bravery and ferocity. Like a lot of reputations, this is due to a few characteristics but also some likely embellished stories. The embellished stories I am talking about are that they cannot be killed. They, like every other living creature, can and will die. Let’s explore some of the interesting characteristics that make this creature the most tenacious and formidable in Africa, pound for pound.

Lets start with a description of these little fighters. They are part of the Mustelidae family, which means they are related to wolverines and weasels. They are actually more closely related to weasels and polecats than they are to European badgers or other South-Asian badger species. The reason I say “other South-Asian badgers” is because the Honey Badger range extends from the southern tip of Africa, all the way to the top, parts of the Arabian peninsula, and into Afghanistan and the Indian subcontinent. They are highly adaptable creatures and have one of the most extensive diets compared to any other Mustelidae. There is some controversy, but the Wolverine might have it edged out on dietary variation. Despite the name, the honey badger is an opportunistic feeder, known for raiding beehives. They will also feed on snakes, birds, eggs, rodents, lizards, carrion, berries, and plant bulbs.

Honey Badger in Kruger Park
Image by Sunmeet Moghe (CC4.0)

As for what makes the honey badger so famous, there are some distinct personality traits. The ratel is an incredible problem-solver, finding extraordinary ways to get what it wants. As an example, there have been reports of honey badgers escaping their enclosures multiple times, to the point that the caretakers removed all tall objects so they could not climb over the fence. They have been known to open gates and pile debris on the side of their enclosures to get out. It has also been reported numerous times that they will not shy away from a lion’s presence and depending on the individual they might not even react to the presence, giving the creature a sense of indifference.

Apart from the personality traits that encourage the intrigue and admiration of the Honey badger, there are some significant anatomical traits that allow the Honey badger to act like this. The Honey badger’s skin is not only very thick, especially on the back of the neck where it can be about 0.6cm (1/4in).This makes it difficult for animals to pierce it and affords the honey badger a lot of protection. It helps minimise the effects of bee stings and snake bites, but it also helps protect the badger when it gets attacked by lions. Another great feature of the honey badger skin is that there is less connective tissue holding it to the rest of the honey badger’s body. This makes the skin really loose, which allows the badger to swivel when being attacked and fight back. There are numerous observances of lions biting the Honey badger on the back of the neck and the Honey badger is still able to spin around and bite the lion back, causing the lion to release the badger. If that weren’t enough, the badger is also able to produce an extremely foul-smelling substance from its anal gland, much like a skunk, which makes other animals pause.

Honey Badger carrying its young in its mouth
Image by Derek Keats (CC2.0)

As mentioned earlier, the honey badger can be bitten by snakes at times. The types of snakes that honey badgers eat can sometimes be extremely venomous, like the scary Puff Adder. The Puff Adder’s venom effectively melts human flesh, but is dramatically less problematic for the honey badger. There are reports of honey badgers fighting puff adders, and before the honey badger can kill the snake, the snake lands a bite. A few minutes after the bite, honey badgers may go into a coma, where they will collapse and stay there for hours before waking up and going on about their day as though nothing happened. The honey badgers’ blood needs to flush the venom out and once that has occurred, they wake up again.

There are other defence mechanisms that the honey badger has that allow it to be as formidable as it is. However, the ones mentioned here are some of the main ones. Due to these reasons, the Guinness Book of World Records has the honey badger listed as the worlds most fearless creature. What are your favourite characteristics about the ratel?

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