Why do badgers have black and white stripes?

BBC Wildlife features editor Ben Hoare answers your wild question. 


Newborn badgers show hints of two dark eye-stripes in otherwise thin, silky fur, and by the time they leave the sett they have developed full adult coloration. They also behave exactly as adults do when threatened, facing the enemy with lowered heads and fluffed-up coats. This displays remarkable confidence for their size, suggesting that the stripes may be a warning.


Badgers have poor eyesight, so their stripes are unlikely to be for soliciting grooming or attracting mates, and in 1911 Reginald Pocock was one of the first zoologists to speculate that it was warning coloration. His hypothesis was backed up in a 2005 paper by Chris Newman, Christina Buesching and Jerry Wolff. They concluded that the European badger, American striped skunk and other middleweight carnivores evolved dazzling patterns to flag up their main defence (anal scent glands in skunks; huge jaws in badgers) to predators.


An old name for badger is ‘grey’, alluding to a rather odd attribute. Its body and leg fur is mostly pale grey: only part of the longest, wiry ‘guard’ hairs is black, producing the overall grizzled appearance. A drawing in Ernest Neal’s monograph The Badger (1948) shows how each mature male’s guard hair is white for 4.4cm, black for 2.2cm and white for the final 1.4cm.