March 31, 2017 (Phys.org) -- While studying scavenger behavior in Utah's Great Basin Desert, University of Utah biologists observed an American badger do something that no other scientists had documented before: bury an entire calf carcass by itself.
While badgers and their relatives are known to cache food stores, this is the first known instance of a badger burying an animal larger than itself. The finding suggests that badgers may have no limit to the size of animal they can cache, and that they may play an important role in sequestering large carcasses, which could benefit cattle ranchers in the West. The study is published in Western North American Naturalist.
"We know a lot about badgers morphologically and genetically, but behaviorally there's a lot of blank spaces that need to be filled," says senior Ethan Frehner, first author on the paper documenting the badger behavior. "This is a substantial behavior that wasn't at all known about."
The work was funded by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to doctoral candidate Evan Buechley.