The week of freaky animal stories continues.
Following the nightmarish report of the Indonesian man eaten by a python earlier this week, now we've got news about a badger burying an entire cow.
After scientists set up cameras to keep tabs on the behavior of scavenger animals in Utah, they were surprised to discover a badger buried a small cow carcass, according to a new study published Friday.
While badgers, which are small, omnivorous mammals, were known to scavenge and store small food items underground, this was the first evidence of the critter storing an animal carcass larger than itself, according to the study, which was led by undergraduate students from the University of Utah.
Previously, biologists saw badgers caching rodents and rabbits, but never an animal larger than itself.
Why in the world are people studying such things?
The main point of the research was to learn more about the ecology of scavengers in the Great Basin during the winter. In January 2016, scientists staked seven small cow carcasses to the ground in Utah's Grassy Mountains and set up cameras to see which animals paid a visit for a meal or two.
But when one of the 50-pound carcasses mysteriously vanished, they checked the camera recording and discovered a small badger was to blame.
"Watching badgers undertake this massive excavation around and underneath is impressive," said Ethan Frehner, lead author of the study. "It's a lot of excavation engineering they put into accomplishing this."
The team didn't originally intend to study badgers, but it was a side benefit of the research, as little is known about badger behavior, Frehner said.
“They’re an enigmatic species," he added. "A substantial amount of their lifetime is spent either underground or a lot of nocturnal behavior, so it’s hard to directly observe that.”
The study findings could benefit ranchers, to whom badgers could be providing an ecological service. If badgers can bury a cow, they might also bury other carrion before any diseases incubating in the carcass can infect other cows, the study authors said.
The study was published in Western North American Naturalist.
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