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Badger Cubs Play Fighting

Badger cub play fights are an annual spectacle that very few people are privileged to witness but here examples of this activity, and its aftermath, have been captured over four consecutive late-May nights using a trail camera placed close to the sett.

The badgers are relaxed and completely unaware of the presence of the camera. Play is therefore uninhibited as befits a sett that is not subject to regular disturbance - where disturbance, particularly by humans, is an issue, the cubs are likely to be far more subdued.

The cubs are probably around three to four months old.

Why do badger cubs play fight?

Badgers, both adults and youngsters, are generally playful animals and play fighting certainly comes naturally to the cubs that usually need little encouragement to participate. Frequently boisterous and oh so competitive, the cubs shown here seem to have an inbuilt urge to dominate their siblings that, as solid food is not brought back for them, is not related to being first in the queue for lunch.

So what are the benefits of play fighting? Well, whilst it seems certain that the benefits are not consciously sought by the badgers, benefits never-the-less accrue in the form of physical development and improved coordination, strengthening of the family bond through physical contact, and, perhaps most importantly, preparation for the potential real fights of later life.

At what age do badger cubs start to play fight?

Typically badger cubs are first regularly seen above ground when around 9-10 weeks of age and almost immediately engage in tentative play fighting, which then consists mainly of pushing and shoving, and it is not until they are 12 weeks, or so, old, as coordination develops and they become stronger, that fighting becomes more boisterous.

How do badger cubs play fight?

Various types of badger play have been noted and most are illustrated within these video sequences. Amongst the more significant are chasing, including badger variants of the children's game of 'tag' (also commonly known as 'tick' or 'it'); biting and holding the rump, tail and ears of others; taking and then defending high ground against others; and preventing others from leaving the sett entrance.

All good clean fun? Maybe, although as can be seen, significant levels of aggression occur so-much-so that 'play fighting' at times seems to be something of a misnomer.

(1) Two badger cubs play fight and an adult joins in - 4.31 minutes

In the early hours of the morning of 28th May, 2021 two badger cubs play fight. An adult - a young (ish) boar, I think - later joins in but he wants to exert authority rather than play.

The boar engages in a prolonged bout of 'lying back' grooming before the cubs return, make a nuisance of themselves again, and are summarily but half-playfully sorted out by the boar.

The whereabouts of the third cub is unknown - perhaps it wisely decided to avoid the skirmishes and stayed underground, or went about its business elsewhere.

(2) Three badger cubs play fight - 5.29 minutes

In the early hours of the morning on 29th May, 2021 three badger cubs play fight by the sett entrance. Varying levels of aggression are shown and there's lots of biting, tail pulling, rolling and tumbling on display.

So vigorous is the play that cubs even manage to fall down the sett entrance, whilst distant and not-so-distant unexplained sounds startle the combatants on three separate occasions, but the play fighting quickly resumes.

(3) The three badger cubs again play fight - 5.47 minutes

At dusk later on the 29th May, 2021 three cubs energetically and seemingly aggressively play fight, and in the process make a right old mess of the sett entrance. Biting, chasing, tail pulling and rapid retreat are all on display.

What sounds like two quite nearby gunshots are heard, causing one cub to dash underground although the other two are so engrossed in their play fighting that they carry on regardless.

Towards the end, the camera is briefly investigated by a badger but is deemed to be harmless and the 'fun' continues.

Blackbird, song thrush and robin close off the day with song.

(4) The aftermath of the badger cubs play fighting - 3.52 and 2.00 minutes

Later in the evening of 29th May, 2021 the sow re-excavates the sett entrance that was badly disturbed by her cubs earlier play fighting. The guilty parties, the cubs, look on, intermittently helping and in equal measure, hindering her repair attempts.

The following evening, the sow and her three cubs emerge whilst it's still very light. The cubs seem subdued - perhaps they are still feeling the effects of being scolded for their earlier misbehaviour.

A dusk chorus provided by blackbird, song thrush and robin again adds to the atmosphere of woodland in spring.

And by 5th June, the badgers had largely abandoned use of this sett entrance and instead were using two other entrances around 20 feet away, so maybe the damage done was just too much to be easily overcome.

Further information and a variety of fascinating badger videos

Badgers - a general introduction
Badger field signs - look out for evidence of badger presence in the countryside
Badger watching - a guide to watching badgers
Badger behaviour - an introduction to a series of badger behaviour videos, mostly shot in the New Forest, and lots more information about badgers
Badger's setts - situation, size, tunnelling and excavation (videos)
Emergence from the sett - times of emergence and factors influencing variation (videos)
Grooming and mutual grooming - badgers grooming themselves and each other (videos)
Scent marking - badgers scent marking their nearest and dearest, and also their territory (videos)
Badger bedding - essential comfort for a good day's sleep (videos)
Play fighting amongst the cubs - high jinks by the sett, but also preparation for later life (videos)
Badger fights / badgers fighting - potentially vicious affairs (videos)
Badgers and foxes together - an often uncomfortable relationship (videos)
Disturbance at badger setts - by people, cats, dogs and passing foxes (videos)
Other animals in the sett, and animal passers-by - shared living space, rabbits, mice, deer, ponies and more (videos)

References:
The Natural History of Badgers, Ernest Neal
Badgers: Ernest Neal and Chris Cheeseman
Darkness Is Light Enough: Chris Ferris
Out of the Darkness: Chris Ferris
Eileen Soper's Badgers
Mammals of Britain and Europe: David Macdonald and Priscilla Barrett


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Content produced by Andrew Walmsley
Content produced by Andrew Walmsley