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Why do badgers have stripes?

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The Mole | 15:36 UK time, Wednesday, 27 May 2009

So there we are, gathered around the in-tent telly, watching Gordon Buchanan holding those adorable little badger cubs. Everyone in the room is cooing and purring happily when Neil, a BBC Radio roving reporter, suddenly pipes up:

"I've just had a thought. Why do badgers have stripes?"

Everyone ignores him because a badger has just climbed up the chimney. But Neil refuses to give up so easily.

"Seriously, if someone can't tell me in the next three minutes why badgers have stripes then I'm turning to Creationism."

After the show the crew returns to the hotel and the talk returns to the topic of the evening: badgers and their stripes. Luckily for the quality of the conversation, the bar has closed so there is a limit to how much can be drunk. Unluckily for the quality of the conversation the doorman has offered to keep serving so the aforementioned limit is actually quite high.

"Why do badgers have stripes?" someone asks again.

"Because they've earned them," comes the reply. "After all, it can't be easy being a badger."

Nods all round. This man has obviously thought it through. But he isn't the only one with an answer.

"I reckon badgers have stripes so they can blend in with zebras," says someone else. The rest of us point out that no one has ever seen wild zebra in the UK.

"That's what you think," comes the man with zebra theory. "But maybe that's only because the zebras are so well camouflaged against the badgers..."

The speaker is a highly-trained zoologist so most of us are happy with this. It does after all make perfect sense and reminds me of a friend who once went paint-balling disguised as Groucho Marx. When was asked why he was disguised as Groucho Marx, he explained that as no one had ever seen spotted Groucho Marx in these woods, then no one would spot him either...

But one of the producers has another and it has nothing to do with camouflage:

"As badgers have small eyes and very poor eyesight," she says, "I think they have stripes so they can recognize each other." But this doesn't wash with the rest of us, some of whom have worked on Springwatch for literally days and now know a thing or two about animals.

"If they want to recognize each other then maybe they should think beyond just the whole stripes thing," suggests one of the web team. "Spots would be good. And stars."

"Or numbers. Numbers are always useful for distinguishing things from each other. It works very well on prisoners."

"Or why not just give them bigger eyes? Then they wouldn't need the stripes at all, and then they wouldn't blend in with the white lines going down the middle of the road, and then fewer badgers would be hit by cars."

We take a vote on it, decide that badgers should definitely be given bigger eyes, and then - as it is after midnight - we retire for the night.

In the morning, unsurprisingly, many of us have sore heads. But I guess that's the price one pays for having such enormous brains...

I promised you Chris Packham's theory and here it is:

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And while you're here, below is a selection of badger shots that viewers submitted to the Springwatch Flickr group.


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