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Ratel/Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis) Fact Sheet: Reproduction & Development

Courtship and Mating

Soliciting partners (from Begg 2001a unless otherwise noted)

  • Males compete for access to females
    • Ritualized agonistic encounters
      • Pivot, roll, and tumble (Vanderhaar and Hwang 2003)
        • Aggressor is the more mobile participant; the more submissive individual is relatively immobile (Vanderhaar and Hwang 2003)
      • Series of customary body postures and vocalizations
        • Aggressor stands tall, stiff-legged with head held high
          • Signal with tail; held vertically above the body, hairs erect appearing as a “bottlebrush”
        • Recipient often exhibits appeasement behaviors; head and body low to the ground and tail held down
  • Male-female interactions
    • Male follows female’s scent trail to locate her den (burrow)
    • Interactions often occur in or around the den
      • Male may enter the female’s den
      • Female often exhibits appeasement behaviors; head low with high pitched rattle vocalization and jaw smacking
    • Female may ‘present’ to male
      • Backs into male with tail raised

Copulation (from Begg 2001a)

  • Occurs within the den most often
    • Pair may remain in the burrow for 32-70 hours
      • Males may physically prevent females from exiting
        • Places body in front of the exit
        • Bites to hold her by the forearm when resting
        • Pulls her backwards into the hole if she goes too near the entrance
    • Multiple males may stand vigil outside; up to 4 hours
      • Older males often behave agonistically toward one another
      • A dominant male (often one with a prominently scared back) may displace another male within the den
        • He digs to collapse the side walls and ceiling of the hole entrance and chases off the rival
  • Young offspring may remain within the den while its mother mates


Year round reproduction (from Begg 2001a; Begg et al. 2005a)

  • Cubs born throughout the year
  • Female receptivity to mating lasts for at least 2 weeks
    • May copulate with males while caring for an older cub

Promiscuous mating (from Begg 2001a ; Begg et al. 2005a)

  • Males and females mate with multiple partners
    • Some evidence for female mate choice

Gestation and Birth


  • Duration
    • 50-70 days (Begg 2001a; Begg et al. 2005a)


  • Location
    • Occurs within the burrow (Shortridge 1934)
  • Litter size
    • 1-2 offspring; 1 most commonly (Begg et al. 2005a; Vanderhaar and Hwang 2003)
      • No reports of twins in the wild (Begg 2001a)
      • Small compared to other, similarly-sized mustelids (Begg 2001a)

Interbirth interval (time between consecutive births)

  • >12 months
    • Females do not breed every year in the wild (Begg et al. 2005a)

Life Stages

Infants/Cubs (<12-16 months) (from Begg et al. 2005a unless otherwise noted)

  • Care
    • Solely provided by the mother
      • Held within the mother’s mouth when moved from one den site to another
    • Nurse within the den
  • Development slow
    • <3 months, remain within the den
      • 0-5 weeks, nearly hairless
      • 2-3 months, weaned begin to forage with mothers (Begg 2001a)
    • 6-8 months, size of adult female (Begg et al. 2003b)
      • Males may exceed the size of their mothers by c. 8 months of age
    • Dependent on care for long periods; up to 12-16 months
      • Hunting skill develops c. 12 months of age (Begg 2001a)
      • Proficiency of hunting and digging gradually increases until independence  (Begg 2001a)

Juveniles (1-3 years) (from Begg et al. 2005a unless otherwise noted)

  • Disperse from the natal (birth) home range
    • Males disperse prior to reaching sexual maturity
    • Female offspring disperse greater distances than male offspring
      • Possibly sexually mature at the time of dispersal  (Begg 2001a)
  • Development
    • Distinguished from adult males by smaller size and lack of back scaring
    • Females reach full adult body mass by the time of independence

Adults (from Begg et al. 2005a unless otherwise noted)

  • Males
    • Sexually mature c. 2-3 years of age, in the wild (Begg 2001a)
    • Identifiable by prominent back scars
      • Scars are likely the result of fights with other males
      • Appears as a thickened callus located on the mid-line of the back (Begg 2001a)
        • Encompasses 70-182 cm2 (11-28 in2)
        • Thin hair covers the area, not hairless
  • Females
    • Spend much of adulthood caring for offspring
      • Offspring may remain with their mothers until the time of her next mating or the birth of her next cub (Begg 2001a)

Typical Life Expectancy

Wild populations

  • Short-lived
    • Typically less than 7 years [Southern Kalahari] (Begg et al. 2005a)

Managed care

  • Median life expectancy
    • No AZA estimates


Dependent cubs(from Begg 2001a; Begg et al. 2005a)

  • High mortality rate
    • 47% in one study (Begg et al. 2005a)
  • Causes
    • Starvation, infanticide, and predation

Few predators target adults(Estes 1991)

  • Medium and large carnivores
    • Leopard (Panthera pardus), lion (Panthera leo), and spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) (Begg 2001a)

Ratel Mating

a ratel on a rock

Mating often occurs within a den and can appear violent. The male often growls and bites at his partner and uses his body to prevent his partner from exiting the den. Outside the den other males may stand vigil to wait their turn, though more dominant individuals attempt to interrupt copulation by digging at the burrow to collapse its walls and ceiling.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Begg (2001a)
Begg et al. (2003a, b)
Begg et al. (2005a)
Estes (1991)
Shortridge (1934)
Vanderhaar and Hwang (2003)
ZIMS (2014)

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