Both of these animals are the largest and most successful mustelids in their respective ranges.
They are equally renowned for their ferocity, their ability to take punishment, and their unbelievable gluttony.
The honey badger measures up to 96 cm is length, up to 28 cm at the shoulder, and weighs up to 16 kilograms.
The wolverine is much larger; up to 107 cm in length, up to 45cm at the shoulder, and weighs up to 25 kilograms.
I will break down the respective weaponry and defenses for each species.
Firstly the wolverine.
The wolverine’s teeth are unique. They have a special molar that is revered 90 degrees which is used for breaking through bone. Their jaws are powerful and the combination of strong jaw muscles and special molars allow them to eat every part of the animal including hooves, bones, and teeth.
According to Dr. Jens Persson from the Swedish Wolverine Project, wolverine claws are believed to be semi-retractable but are actually fixed. However, the toe biomechanics effectively allows them to perform a similar action, which of course allows them to be kept sharp. These claws are also curved and therefore ideal for hooking and shredding.
In terms of behavior, the wolverine is fearless. It has been recorded killing a polar bear by latching onto the throat with its jaws and suffocating the animal. Its primary means of killing is suffocation by biting the throat and not letting go, and also by crushing with its powerful jaws and specially adapted molars.
The wolverine’s main defense against predators is its ferocity. It uses this together with its sharp claws, sharp teeth, powerful jaws, and thick skin and fur to protect its kills against much bigger predators, including wolves and bears.
Although the wolverine is known to have a thick hide, wolverines have been recorded killed by North American porcupine quills in a number of instances.
Now let’s look at the honey badger.
Other than its willingness to fight to the bitter end, the honey badger’s defenses are fourfold.
First, it is built to take a beating. Honey badgers live in an environment inhabited by many much larger predators, including lions, leopards, hyaenas, Cape hunting dogs, cheetahs, and of course, as we both evolved in Africa: man.
It is normal for predators in this environment to attack and kill any other predator. This is most likely to reduce food competition. That means that honey badgers have evolved to survive in the same environment as these much larger and well equipped carnivores.
Honey badgers need to be exceptionally tough to survive. Lions, leopards, and hyaenas are all well-known to attack and attempt to kill honey badgers. These attempts are sometimes successful but very often they are not. The honey badger will fight non-stop until it is dead or the attacker tires, at which point the honey badger will make a break for it.
The honey badger has an exceptionally tough, thick, and loose hide, specifically evolved to defend it against biting, clawing, and stinging. It is almost 6mm thick and extremely tough. A good example of how tough is the fact that African porcupine quills rarely penetrate it. Bear in mind that African porcupines are three times the size of their North American cousins.
Their second defense is tirelessness. They can literally keep fighting for hours on end. This is a problem for a predator already battling to gnaw through the skin. The effort is tiring, and the whole time, the honey badger is struggling and counterattacking with its own claws and teeth.
The third defense of the honey badger is that when attacked, it will go for its attacker’s groin. There are records (Stevenson-Hamilton 1947) from the Kruger National Park in South Africa of adult male Cape buffaloes having bled to death after being savaged by honey badgers in this manner.
Lastly, the honey badger has a reversible anal gland. The smell produced by it is described as “suffocating.”
The honey badgers weaponry includes a set of much smaller but sharper teeth than that of the wolverine, sharp claws, and equal ferocity and stubbornness to that of the wolverine.
In my opinion, it boils down to whether the wolverine could get through the honey badger’s defenses to kill him and whether the honey badger even has the tools to kill a wolverine.
While the wolverines weaponry is formidable, it does not approach that of lions, leopards or hyaenas. Below is a link to a video of a leopard battling to kill a honey badger. It succeeds in the end, but takes one hour to do so.
Another video shows a honey badger fending off six lions and then making good his escape.
Now, let’s look at a hypothetical fight between the two animals.
I think we can pretty much discount either animal’s claws doing much other than superficial damage to the other. The wolverine’s greater strength and powerful jaws and teeth would very likely enable it to overpower the honey badger. However, like the much more powerful leopards and lions it would very likely have a very hard time getting through the honey badger’s hide. This would take it possibly hours to do. Would it have to have the stamina to keep fighting the struggling honey badger, which would not give up till the death?
As for the honey badger, its teeth, although smaller than the wolverine’s would very likely be able to penetrate the wolverine’s hide. However, it would not be able to kill the wolverine by biting it to death. There is of course the question of whether the wolverine could suffocate the honey badger via biting the throat. This is highly unlikely because of the same loose, thick hide that makes lions and leopards take so long to kill them though they have more powerful jaws and wider gapes.
In my opinion, honey badger would either rip off the wolverines genitalia, thus causing it to bleed to death, or both would die via prolonged mutual mutilation.
After all this talk of these animals’ strengths, I would like to point out the one big weakness they both possess. They are worse than pigs. They will eat anything and everything they can get their greedy gobs ahold of. In the case of wolverines, they are so greedy that they have been recorded dying after stuffing themselves full of porcupine without taking the time to remove the quills.
I have witnessed the disgraceful and the debilitating extent of honey badger gluttony after one got into a store room at a safari camp I once worked at. After spending the entire night gorging himself on every foodstuff imaginable, he was discovered by one of the workers who ran to tell everybody. We were of course worried about how we would get him out of there. We needn’t have worried. When we opened the door he literally crawled out on his belly. He had eaten so much that he went straight past us without even glancing left or right and groaning not growling. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had died as a result.
We didn’t see him again for a week and when we did, he had a very embarrassed look about him.
So, if you ever have to kill one of either of these species, the easiest way would probably be to just feed the bugger to death…
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More questions on hypothetical battles:
- If you could make an army using 1 ton of any animals for a battle to the death, what would your army look like?
- Who would win in a fight between Iron Man and Batman? Why?
- If every state of the USA declared war against each other, which would win?
Correction, Nov. 5, 2013: This post originally contained a photo of a Eurasian badger, not a honey badger.