Irish female badgers really play the percentages well

15 Oct 2015

Ireland is home to one of the world’s healthiest populations of badgers, with new research shedding light on just why they are such successful breeders.

Female badgers, it turns out, can carry young from multiple fathers at the same time, while also suspending the implantation of an embryo following fertilisation.

This double tactic means that female badgers can mate with the dominant males in their territory, before slipping off to mate with others around the vicinity.

Dominant male, not so dominant

By doing this, it is thought, they can then time their term to bring young through at “times of environmental plenty”.

Better yet, the young will be protected by the dominant male in the area, even if they’re not his.

Take that, dominant male. Basically, badgers are amazing.

It means that the badger is one of just five species in the world that can take on this task, joining the likes of the American mink, the casiragua, the North African gundi (below, and adorable) and the brown hare.

North African Gundi

What a trick

“It’s amazing to think that only five species in the world have evolved this ability to maintain several different embryos at different stages of development at the same time,” said Dr Nicola Marples, who co-authored the paper.

“It seems such a useful trick for the female to play,” added the associate professor of Zoology at Trinity College.

Dr Marples, along with zoologists at Trinity, vets at UCD and scientists at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), conducted the research, which provides significant insights into how populations mix and the species thrives.

“Studying badger movement is imperative to improving our knowledge of the diseases they carry, including tuberculosis,” Lynsey Stuart, co-author on the study, said.

“This type of research will aid in the effective delivery of a vaccine against tuberculosis, helping badgers and cattle alike.”

Badger image and gundi image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic