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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Sunday, April 14, 2024

I Just Think They’re Neat: Badgers

Explore the science behind the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s beloved mascot

 From sporting red and white overalls to screaming the lyrics to “Jump Around,” University of Wisconsin-Madison students have mastered the art of school spirit. While I’m guilty of participating in both these traditions, I derive the most joy from one particular UW-Madison trademark: Buckingham U. “Bucky” Badger. 

Outside of representing a ferocious football team and countless dining hall sweet treats, Bucky also represents an intriguing animal. The badger, which is part of the Mustelidae (weasel) family, consists of 17 species broken down into four main categories. These are classified as Arctonyx (hog badgers), Meles (regional badgers), Melogale (ferret badgers) and Mydaus (stink badgers). 

When we picture Bucky, most of us think of an American badger (Taxidea Taxus) or honey badger (Mellivora capensis), both of which fall outside of the main groups and into individual subfamilies. 

How can we describe Bucky using scientific terminology versus endearing adjectives like “cute?” To start, all badgers are nocturnal mammals with fur. They often display dark faces and bodies accompanied by lighter markings, such as their signature stripe. 

Badgers can grow to be as tall as 35 inches and as heavy as 40 pounds. They also have adaptations for digging — such as relatively short, clawed legs — that are useful for catching prey and burrowing into dens. 

Our furry carnivore friends eat a diet primarily composed of rodents, insects, reptiles and the occasional scavenging find. But the badger’s true mystique comes from their social habits, often referred to as the “secret life of badgers.” 

A 2017 study from a team of University of Oxford and Cambridge researchers challenged the notion that badgers are introverted animals by using tags and an active-radio-frequency-identification system to track badger behaviors. 

Results from the study proved it is not necessarily rare for them to move outside of their territories. Badgers even show signs of cooperation with other ‘setts,’ referring to a group of less than ten badgers participating in communal living. Notions of setts and community are often observed among badgers in the United Kingdom. 

Besides mating in the summer season, the American badger typically exists alone. This is a contrast to the UW-Madison badger community, a network of students and faculty pushing each other onward. 

I hope you stop and smile next time you see Bucky’s face on a sweatshirt now that you know a bit more about the science behind our beloved mascot.

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