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Ratel/Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

Diet

Carnivores (from Begg et al. 2008 unless otherwise noted)

  • Opportunists
    • Take a variety of prey
      • Insects to young ungulates
      • Consume prey across a wide range of sizes
        • 2-2000 g (0.07 oz-4.4 lb) (Begg et al. 2003b)
    • Tsama melons uncommonly eaten (Begg et al. 2003b)
      • The only plant material consumed in the wild
  • Hunt for food most often
    • Occasionally take food from other carnivores or scavenge
      • Brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea), African wildcat (Felis lybica), and black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) may lose prey to the ratel (Begg 2001a; Begg et al. 2008)

Food items (from Begg et al. 2003b unless otherwise noted)

  • Commonly eaten prey
    • Small mammals (<100 g or 3.5 oz)
      • Rodents: hairy footed (Gerbillurus paeba) and Brants (Tatera brantsii) gerbil, striped mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio)
    • Small reptiles (<100 g)
      • Geckos and skinks
  • Other important prey (based on total biomass consumed)
    • Reptiles: mole snake (Pseudaspis cana), puff adder (Bitis arientans), Cape cobra (Naja nivea)
      • Cobra and adders are highly venomous
    • Mid-sized mammals: springhare (Pedetes capensis)
  • Other
    • Insects: honeybees (Apis mellifera) and their honey comb; solitary bee (Parafidelia friesee) larvae, various other invertebrates (Begg et al. 2003a)
    • Small mammals: ground squirrel (Xerus inauris)
    • Birds: Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax) chicks
    • Small carnivores: yellow (Cynictis penicillata) and slender (Galerella sanguine) mongoose, meerkat (Suricata suricatta), striped polecat (Ictonyx striatus), juvenile Cape fox (Vulpes chama), juvenile bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis), juvenile black-backed jackal, and juvenile African wild cat (Begg 2001a)

Scavenge at times (from Vanderhaar and Hwang 2003)

  • Raid tourist campsites and trashcans in residential areas

Feeding

Foraging techniques (from Begg et al. 2003b unless otherwise noted)

  • Hunt alone, solitary most often
    • Older cub accompanies its mother
  • Sniff out prey
    • Use olfactory cues to locate animals
    • Walk slowly during travel
      • Move in a winding fashion while investigating scent trails and prey burrows
    • Often stop and turn the head upwind before altering course
  • Dig to obtain most food items (Begg 2001a; Kruuk and Mills 1983)
    • Excavation effort
      • Little effort required to dig for geckoes and skinks; 1-2 minutes
      • Dig for nearly 10 minutes to secure larger snakes
    • Most items are secured within holes; more limited success in capturing escaped prey above the ground (Begg 2001a)
  • Bee hives
    • Front claws tear away wood to expose the hive, the comb is scooped out (Vanderhaar and Hwang 2003)
    • Capable of inflicting considerable damage to commercial beehives (Begg and Begg 2002)
      • May damage >11% of hives kept by traditional beekeepers, records from Tanzania and South Africa

Feeding

  • Consume nearly all portions of prey items (Begg et al. 2003b)
    • Including the heads of poisonous snakes, which are attacked first (Begg et al. 2003b)
  • Hold food between the front claws (Vanderhaar and Hwang 2003)
    • Forelegs at rest on the ground (Vanderhaar and Hwang 2003)

Opportunistic Carnivore

a ratel hunting

Ratels most often hunt for their meals, though individuals have been known to scavenge. Prey largely consist of small mammals and reptiles.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Begg (2001a)
Begg and Begg (2002)
Begg et al. (2003a, b)
Begg et al. (2008)
Kruuk and Mills (1983)
Vanderhaar and Hwang (2003)

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