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Don’t freak out, Europe, but you might be in the middle of a mustelid uprising

by Matt Davenport
May 27, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 22


A belligerent badger

It used to be that the scariest thing Scottish castle ruins had to contend with was a little haunting here and there. But now a very real terror has emerged from the animal kingdom: badgers.

A crowned badger sits upon a throne in this drawing.
Credit: C&EN/Shutterstock
Heavy is the head: The badger abdicated after just a few days.

Last month, a badger temporarily overtook the cellar tunnel of Craignethan Castle, about 30 km south of Glasgow. On the evening of April 12, the badger dug through loose soil into the stonework of the 16th-century castle and attempted to make itself at home, a spokesperson for Historic Environment Scotland tells Newscripts. The Scottish organization cares for more than 300 historic properties in the country.

The following morning, castle staff tweeted that the tunnel was closed to the public “due to the presence of a very angry badger.” The staff surmises that the hostile takeover was unintentional, which is a little disheartening for the Newscripts gang and its wild imagination. The badger likely happened upon the castle while lost.

Workers attempted to lure the badger out with cat food and some honey to sweeten the deal, but the cantankerous creature did not take the bait. It skedaddled of its own accord a few days later, leaving minor damage to the castle’s stonework in its wake, the Historic Environment Scotland spokesperson says. The tunnel remained closed for about a week to facilitate repairs.

But castle closures on account of critters are not entirely unheard of in Scotland. The top floor of Threave Castle in southern Scotland closes to accommodate nesting peregrine falcons, the spokesperson tell us. “It’s not uncommon for wildlife to feature at some of our sites—though a badger is rare.”


Otter obstructionism

A drawing of an otter sailor in a stocking cap and sweater.
Credit: C&EN/Shutterstock
Shore leave: What otter doesn't want that shut-down-a-marina type of love?

Not to be outdone by its cousin, a hot-to-trot otter shut down construction at a marina in Norway earlier this month. Both badgers and otters belong to the family Mustelidae, although otters have their own distinct subfamily known as Lutrinae. And the European otter, Lutra lutra, is the mammal so nice they named it twice.

Workers at the marina in Sogn og Fjordane county stopped construction on a boat slip when someone spotted an otter. Although otters breed year round, the lusty month of May is a particularly active time, Newscripts learned from the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang (with an assist from Google Translate and the English-language paper the Local). Work on the slip cannot resume until experts determine whether the area is an active breeding ground for the protected animal.

And the otter’s status is why the perennially prudish Newscripts gang is prying into the otter’s reproductive business.


Hunting, habitat loss, and other human-fueled factors drove Western Europe’s otter population into decline during the 20th century. Norway even offered a bounty for otter pelts between 1900 and 1932, according to the Norwegian Environment Agency. But the country gradually rolled out conservation efforts and formally protected the species in 1982 and now believes populations are on the rise.

So we wish the best to Sogn og Fjordane’s purported paramour and its potential pups. Unfortunately, Newscripts did not hear back from local experts or newspapers to learn if the marina is in fact a rendezvous point. But we offer our heartfelt thanks to Scandinavian media for teaching us how to say that “amorous otters have stopped building plans” in Norwegian, should the need ever arise. For the record, it’s “Oter-sex stopper byggeplaner.”

Matt Davenport wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to


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