Startling images and footage show an American badger burying a cow carcass, which is several times bigger than badger itself.
The carcass, which belongs to calf that had been part of research project, probably weighed about 23 kilograms. A typical badger, meanwhile, weighs about 6.3 kilograms (females) and 8.6 kilograms (males).
To put the visual in more familiar terms, imagine an eight- to 12-week-old cocker spaniel burying a huge bag of dog food in your yard.
Badgers cache or basically store carrion in the ground. They dig holes that function like a refrigerator in which they keep their meals to eat at a later time. These holes also protect the food from theft by other animals. As far as scientists knew, badgers usually cache carcasses no larger than a jackrabbit. Jackrabbits aren't that much bigger than a badger.
Imagine how surprising it was, therefore, to see a badger burying a cow that's much bigger than itself.
The scientists who saw footage of the badger in the act detailed what they discovered in a new report. Researchers from the University of Utah were conducting a study on scavengers in Utah's Grassy Mountains. They staked seven calf carcasses to the ground and set up camera traps to see which scavengers will come. The researchers expected to see animals like coyotes or eagles, but they never expected a badger to steal the spotlight.
When one of the researchers checked on the carcasses one day, he discovered that one was missing. He thought that some scavenger probably dragged the carcass away, but couldn't conclusively figure out how. After all, the team had staked the carcasses to the ground. When the researchers checked the footage from the camera traps, they realized that the missing carcass was not actually missing.
It was there all along, they just never thought to look underground.
According to the footage, the badger encountered the calf carcass one day and returned for it on the next night. Upon its return, the badger dug around and under the carcass for four hours, taking a break for only five minutes. The badger came back again the next after noon, and the morning after that, to keep digging. The carcass then fell into the large hole the badger dug.
For the next two days, the badger refilled the hole with dirt to completely bury the carcass. It created a den for itself, where it can go in and out of the hole to feed on its cache. Badgers typically build dens close to their cache, where they sleep and feed on the carrion.
The badger repeatedly returned to the carcass for the next couple of months. However, there was a herd of live cows wandering around in the area. This must have scared the badger away from its hoard for good.
Another badger apparently had the same idea. In another research site about three kilometers away, cameras caught another badger burying a cow carcass. This second badger, however, was less successful than the other one.
Get weekly science updates in your inbox!