Ratel - Encyclopedia

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RATEL, or Honey-Badger, the name of certain Indian and African small clumsy-looking creatures of about the size and appearance of badgers, representing the genus Mellivora in the family Mustelidae (see Carnivora). Two species of ratel are commonly recognized, the Indian (M. indica), and the African (M. ratel), which ranges over Africa, but a black ratel from the Ituri forest has been separated as M. cottoni. Both the two former are iron-grey on the upper parts, and black below, a style of coloration rare among mammals, as the upper side of the body is in the great majority darker than the lower.

Black Rat (Mus rattus). The body is stout and thickly built; the legs are short and strong, and armed, especially the anterior pair, with long curved claws; the tail is short; and the ears are reduced to rudiments. The skull is conical, stout and heavy, and the teeth, although sharper and less rounded than those of badgers, are less suited to a carnivorous diet than those of stoats, weasels and martens. The two ratels may be distinguished by the fact that the African species has a distinct white line round the body at the junction of the grey of the upper side with the black of the lower, while in the Indian this line is absent; the teeth also of the former are larger, rounder and, heavier than those of the latter. The two are, however, so nearly allied that they might almost be considered geographical races of a single species. Dr T. C. Jerdon states that the Indian ratel is found throughout the whole of India, from the extreme south to the foot of the Himalaya, chiefly in hilly districts, where it has greater facilities for constructing the holes and dens in which it lives; but also in the north of India in alluvial plains, where the banks of large rivers afford equally suitable localities wherein to make its lair. It is stated to live usually in pairs, and to eat rats, birds, frogs, white ants and various insects, and in the north of India it is accused of digging out dead bodies, and several of the native names mean "grave-digger." Dr W. T. Blanford, in the Fauna of British India, is of opinion that the reproach is without foundation. Like its Cape congener it occasionally partakes of honey, and is often destructive to poultry. In confinement the Indian ratel becomes tame and even playful, displaying a habit of tumbling head over heels. (R. L.*)

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