The badger and the moon

When David Dixon began watching a family of badgers, little did he know how deeply he’d be drawn into their nocturnal world. Or that he'd discover something unearthly influencing their mating behaviour.

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Badgers and the moon article spread

 

 

I investigated past records of badger matings in old natural history books and journals, and found that these supported my research findings, with more matings being recorded on dark phase nights. The exceptions were some short matings, lasting a minute or less, whose function may have had more to do with dominance relationships than with reproduction.  
 
A possible evolutionary driver for this link with the lunar cycle is that badgers, in typical mustelid fashion, spend a long time copulating – 90 minutes or more is not unusual.
 
This means that in the past, amorous badgers may have been at considerable risk from attack by wolves, lynx or bears unless they restricted their mating activities to when the countryside was cloaked in darkness. If correct, this represents an interesting variation on the usual predator-avoidance theme.
 
Supporting roles
 
It wasn’t just badgers that ended up on my films.
 
Woodmice often came to pilfer the peanuts, and exposed themselves to sudden, usually unsuccessful attacks by tawny owls. An inverted garden sieve, which I’d placed over the nuts to keep off squirrels and other daytime looters, provided a convenient air raid shelter for the mice – and protected them from the attention of foxes and my badgers.
 
On one occasion, a boar badger disturbed one of the more adventurous mice and chased it back to its burrow with a ground-patting gait clearly aimed at pinning the rodent down. The mouse escaped. 
 
I also observed cyclical behaviour in other animals, such as the annual mass migration of froglets that accompanied the first heavy rain in August, and the seasonal changes in domestic cat behaviour, which varied from being extremely hostile towards the badgers (albeit from the safety of the garden wall) to totally disinterested.
 
Bitter end
 
Unfortunately, my work at the ex-MoD site was brought to an abrupt end in 2003 when developers obliterated all but the sett area (the only legal restriction). What had been wonderful was destroyed in the name of a housing development.
 
Fortunately, my contacts have since told me that the badgers have moved into some nearby woods, from where they make regular nightly sorties into nearby gardens, presumably on the hunt for peanuts. 
 
To bring the story up to date, I repeated the study on another group of badgers, under the watchful gaze of the fallow deer herd in the peaceful and protected grounds of the Wrigley chewing gum factory on the outskirts of Plymouth. This yielded similar results to those I obtained earlier, which added further weight to my findings.  
 
Clearly, there is still much to be learnt about the behaviour of even our best studied mammals. Now, does anyone out there have any polecats or pine martens I could borrow?
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