Sexual and seasonal variation in the diet and foraging behaviour of a sexually dimorphic carnivore, the honey badger Mellivora capensis

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Journal of Zoology



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The honey badger, or ratel, Mellivora capensis has not been well studied despite its extensive distribution. As part of the first detailed study, visual observations of nine habituated free-living individuals (five females, four males) were used to investigate seasonal, annual and sexual differences in diet and foraging behaviour. Theory predicts that generalist predators ‘switch’ between alternative prey species depending on which prey species are currently most abundant, and diet breadth expands in response to decreased availability of preferred food types. There were significant seasonal differences in the consumption of eight prey categories related to changes in prey availability but no seasonal differences in food intake per kg of body mass. As predicted, the cold-dry season diet was characterized by low species richness and low foraging yield but high dietary diversity, while the reverse was true in the hot-dry and hot-wet seasons. In accordance with these predictions, results suggest that the honey badger maintains its intake level by food switching and by varying dietary breadth. Despite marked sexual size dimorphism, male and female honey badgers showed no intersexual differences in prey size, digging success, daily food intake per unit body weight or foraging behaviour. Results do not support the hypothesis that size dimorphism is primarily an adaptation to reduce intersexual competition for food.

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