The honey badger, also called a ratel, is not an actual badger but more badger-like. It's a mammal with a white or grey back and very black underparts. This is one tough, mean, fearless creature that is native to Africa and Asia. The honey badger has no problem attacking the hives of Africanized Honey Bees (killer bees). In fact, this courageous survivor will attack just about anything that moves.
Honey bees often seem quite content as they go about their business gathering nectar and pollen from flowering plants. The reality is that bees have a lot to contend with in their short lives. Their existence is even more complicated as they try to share their habitat with man. Here are a few of the most known issues that today's bees have to face:
- Loss of habitat
- Climate change
Regarding that last point, bees have to always be on the lookout for predators. Because they're quite small, they make easy snacks for other animals. This includes birds, small mammals, reptiles and other, bigger insects that prey on them. Some bigger mammals pose a threat not just to the individual bees but to entire hives. Bears are infamous for destroying hives, but it's the honey they’re after, not the bees. This brings us on to another hive destroyer, the honey badger.
Beware of the Honey Badgers
Honey badgers are vicious and fearless predators that are part of the weasel family. They get the “Honey” part of their name from their fondness for raiding beehives. In certain parts of the world they are a huge pest to beehives, like a wolf is to sheep. Because of this, the honey badger's main predator is man, or more specifically, beekeepers. They tend to kill the honey badgers by using traps or poisons. The problem for the honey badger is that it's an opportunistic, carnivore. What this means is that they're not fussy in what they eat. This includes poison disguised as food, much to their detriment.
A Friendlier Solution to an Awkward Problem
Trapping and killing honey badgers that pose a threat to beekeepers is a drastic measure. Killing other wildlife should always be a last resort whenever possible, in any situation. In the past decade scientists have come up with a simpler, friendlier way to tackle the problem. They discovered that the easiest way to remove the threat from beekeepers was to simply move the beehives out of the reach of honey badgers. That's it! By putting the hives up high with nothing to grip hold of lessened the threat to bees. Now some South African beekeepers subscribe to the country's Bee Industry’s Code of Practice. This means they get to promote that on their products as “badger-friendly” honey. It's a popular move for consumers who care about these things.
Here is some fascinating research which explains why these strange creatures just don't care.
Why the honey badger don't care: Convergent evolution of venom-targeted nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in mammals that survive venomous snake bites.
Toxicon. 2015 Jun 1;99:68-72. doi: 10.1016/j.toxicon.2015.03.007. Epub 2015 Mar 18.
Drabeck DH1, Dean AM2, Jansa SA3.
To every problem there is a solution for those who seek one. Although honey badgers are not popular among beekeepers, they are still part of the natural wildlife. They will continue to destruct wild bee hives and unprotected beekeeper hives. Placing beehives out of the reach of honey badgers has certainly contributed to the solution. At least it has lessened the problem for those beekeepers who embrace this simple model.