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Utah researchers record badger burying entire cow carcass

By Ben Hooper
Utah researchers record badger burying entire cow carcass
A badger gives a satisfied look to a Utah researcher's camera after spending five days burying an entire cow carcass. Screenshot: University of Utah/YouTube

March 31 (UPI) -- A team of Utah researchers captured the first-ever video of an unusual occurrence: A badger burying an entire cow carcass.

The University of Utah researchers said they were studying scavengers in the Great Basin Desert when one of their cameras recorded the badger digging a deep hole to bury the massive carcass.

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The researchers posted time-lapse footage, captured in January 2016, to YouTube. The burial took the badger a total five days, they said.

The study, published in the journal Western North American Naturalist, said the researchers observed another badger burying a cow, but the carcass was only partially buried in that instance.

"We know a lot about badgers morphologically and genetically, but behaviorally there's a lot of blank spaces that need to be filled," lead study author Ethan Frehner said in a news release."This is a substantial behavior that wasn't at all known about."

"Watching badgers undertake this massive excavation around and underneath is impressive," Frehner said. "It's a lot of excavation engineering they put into accomplishing this."

Ethan Buechley, co-author on the paper, said he was surprised when he went to check on the cow carcasses planted by the researchers and discovered one was missing.

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After a few days of recording went out to check on the cow carcasses. He found that one was missing. "When I first got there I was bummed because it's hard to get these carcasses, to haul them out and set them up," he said. "I thought 'Oh, well we've lost one after a week.'"

Buechley said he thought a mountain lion or coyote had dragged the carcass away, but a review of the video footage held a big surprise.

"Right on the spot I downloaded the photos," he said. "We didn't go out to study badgers specifically, but the badger declared itself to us."

Badgers are known to bury, or "cache," their food stores, but the cow carcass is the largest animal known to have been buried by one of the animals.

The researchers said burying the carcass could have a secondary purpose -- preventing larger predators from being drawn to its habitat.

"Keeping large predators away is a big deal for a lot of ranchers," co-author Tara Christensen said. "You could argue that if the carcasses are being buried, they're not going to be attracting large predators."

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