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How Badgers Get Ahead in Game of Life

Posted October 15, 2015

New research has shown that badgers, one of Ireland’s most iconic wild creatures, roll the dice in their sex lives to gain an all-important edge in the game of life.

Not only are badgers able to suspend the implantation of an embryo following fertilisation, but they are also able to carry babies conceived at different times, and even – in all probability – fathered by different males.

Badger. Image credit: Flickr

Badger. Image credit: Flickr

This incredibly rare strategy means females can mate with the dominant male in their territories as well as a pair of hunky guys in neighbouring areas, all of whom are likely to pass on desired genes to their young. Embryos can be implanted a long time after fertilisation, which enables the babies to be brought to term at a time of environmental plenty. And, when they are born, they will be afforded the protection of the dominant male in the social group, even though some (or all) of them might not be his.

The amazing research, conducted by zoologists from the School of Natural Sciences at Trinity College Dublin, vets at UCD, and scientists at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), has been published in leading international journal PLOS ONE.

Understanding when and why badgers move between territories provides key insights into how populations mix. This is extremely valuable information from a conservation perspective, because it may help researchers design an effective TB vaccination programme.

Badgers can harbour TB and inadvertently pass the disease to cows, which results in cattle farmers losing millions of euro each year. As such, a well-designed vaccination programme should provide a win-win situation.

Source: Trinity College Dublin

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