Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why Honey Badger: An Evolutionary Investigation

So, it’s been a while, and I want to ensure all those eagerly anticipating my posts :) you will see them on a very regular basis from here on out.  To begin our examination of the honey badger we need to trace the evolutionary history of the honey badger. Scientific name: Mellivora capensis (Von Schreiber, 1776). The name means “honey eater of the Cape,” which is ironic because honey badgers don’t actually eat honey.

The honey badge, commonly called the ratel, is not actually a badger!!! I know another weird fact right? The honey badger was originally classified as part of the subfamily Melinae, which includes the typical badgers found in Europe and Asia. Today the honey badger has its own genus, Mellivora.  A major distinction was found in the morpho-physiology and development of the honey badger’s teeth.

Below, you will find the taxonomy of the honey badger, which may also be useful to reference as we discuss the phylogenetics of the family Mustelidae

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata (animals with a notochord)
Sub-phylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Mustelidae
Subfamily: Mellivorinae
Genus: Mellivora
Species: capensis

The family Mustelidae is the largest family among the order Carnivora, which includes diverse members (otters, weasels, polecats, martens, and honey badgers among others). Recently researchers (Yonezawa et a.l, 2006) sequenced mitochondrial genomes and found support for the hypothesis that the Taxidinae (American badger) branched out first, followed by the branching of the Melinae (European & Asian badger). After this branching the Mustelinae (hog badger, wolverine, marten, weasel, ferret-badger, and honey badger) diversified. Even though the honey badger is classified as a distinct subfamily of Mellivorinae the researchers found that its phylogenetic position remains unclear.

In the next post I will provide a guide for spotting this “majestic” and solitary animal. 

Photo Credit
Marriomassone-Public Domain

Yonezawa, T., Nikaido, M., Kohno, N., Fukumoto, Y., Okada, N., & Hasegawa, M. (2007). Molecular phylogenetic study on the origin and evolution of Mustelidae. Gene, 396(1), 1–12. doi:10.1016/j.gene.2006.12.040

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