Back in June, I was walking through Barber Park with my dogs, had a sudden urge to turn around, and spotted a face peeping out at us between the tall grasses about 15 yards away. Thankfully, I had my big lens, and so I crouched down and started snapping as he scuttled away. The resulting photo caused some online controversy, and then was subsequently covered in the Idaho Statesman. Please weigh in with your opinion in the comments! Badger, or wolverine?
Did a Boise woman see an elusive wolverine on the Greenbelt? Here’s what experts say
UPDATED JUNE 28, 2021 09:45 PM
Idaho Fish and Game cameras caught an elusive wolverine eating from a frozen deer leg placed about 12 miles northeast of McCall as bait. The animals, part of the weasel family, are being studied across Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Washington as res BY MCCLATCHY
Mary Vogt was walking her dogs on the Greenbelt near Barber Park in East Boise on a Sunday morning this month when she felt the urge to turn back. When she turned around, she noticed she and her pups weren’t alone.
“I just happened to see this little thing peaking out from between the grasses,” she said in a phone interview. “I can’t even explain how I saw it because they blend in so well.”
The creature sidled out of the brush “and just started trotting down the trail away from me,” Vogt said. An avid wildlife photographer, she pulled out her camera and snapped a few photos. She thought it was likely a badger, though it didn’t seem to have some of the distinct markings the animals are known for.
“I just thought, ‘What a cute little critter, who’s that?’ ” Vogt said. “Immediately it came to my mind: ‘badger.’ (Though) they have such distinct stripes, and I didn’t see any stripes.”
When Vogt got home, she decided to share the photo on the Idaho Nature Lovers Facebook group, which boasts more than 25,000 members who regularly share photographs of scenic landscapes and wildlife.
To her surprise, Vogt’s post immediately took off, with some commenters agreeing that she likely saw a badger and others proposing a much more exciting — but incredibly unlikely — scenario: Had Vogt instead seen an elusive wolverine?
BOISE WOMAN’S WILDLIFE POST SPARKS DEBATE ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Vogt’s Facebook account was recently deleted by the social media site, and with it the “badgerine” post, as she calls the wildlife identification debate. However, she also shared the photo to the neighborhood social media site NextDoor, where it again sparked a flurry of comments — nearly 200 by Thursday.
“I spotted this guy checking us out from the brush on Sunday, around 9:30 a.m. and I had my camera with a telephoto lens so I got a pic — although not great — as he scurried off. I posted it in an Idaho Nature Lovers group on Facebook, and the debate has gone on for over 24 hours as to whether it’s a badger or wolverine. What say you?” Vogt wrote.
Many commenters were confident in calling it a badger, while others were certain it couldn’t be.
“Given the coloring, definition of the bushy tail, and shape of the nose, I would vote that the original post photo is a wolverine,” one commenter wrote.
“Based on the striped facial markings and the squatty legs, it’s a badger,” said another.
Others pointed to even more wildlife: bear cubs, martins. Even Sasquatch got a mention.
Many pointed out that wolverines are rare even in some of Idaho’s most remote places. The shy animals, which are about 3 feet long and have dark brown coats with lighter markings on their sides and faces, are typically seen only in the mountains. Both wolverines and badgers are short, squat creatures that are members of the weasel family and are known for their tenacity and sometimes ferocious nature.
Vogt said the debate caused her to second-guess herself.
“At first I posted it and said, ‘Look at this badger,’ and somebody said right away, ‘That’s a wolverine,’ ” she said.
She also said she was surprised that the social media posts garnered as much attention as they did. Vogt said she was mostly entertained by the comments and came away with a better understanding of both species.
“What I liked about it was people were posting a lot of things that were informative about badgers and about wolverines. I had no idea about either, and I really enjoyed learning about them,” she said.
Another one of these commenters was Matt Miller, wildlife enthusiast and director of science communications for The Nature Conservancy.
Miller said he knew the animal was a badger and posted accordingly on NextDoor. Later, he deleted it. “People were becoming irate. … I saw that it wasn’t helping, and I was doing that classic social media trap.”
He later wrote an article for Cool Green Science about his frustrations and the potential pros and cons of using social media to identify wildlife.
Miller wrote that, as a naturalist, he was first disheartened by the apparent disconnect with wildlife. But he tried to view it through a different lens and instead found a silver lining.
“As I glance through all those wildlife posts, it suddenly hits me. This is not a reason for doom-and-gloom. It’s pretty obvious: People are interested in wildlife,” he wrote.
In his article, Miller said he hoped people will take the opportunity to learn about wildlife and conservation through conversations like these — just like Vogt did. He told the Statesman there are sites specifically geared toward conservation and wildlife identification that are more conducive to learning.
The benefit, Miller said, of sites such as iNaturalist over NextDoor or Facebook is that “you build a profile based on your identification record. And so, if you are often making clearly wrong IDs, that will show over time.”
But, the best thing to do, Miller said, is to buy a field guide.
“When I go fishing,” said Miller, “I would sooner leave home without my fishing rod than my field guide.”
EXPERTS IDENTIFY SOCIAL MEDIA’S MYSTERY CREATURE
According to Colorado’s Parks and Wildlife webpage, wolverines “resemble a small bear with a long tail” and are about “25-34 inches long.” Badgers, on the other hand, are “18-23 inches” and have a “white stripe down their nose.”
“I never try to be the referee in these matters, but it was much more likely that a badger would be along the Greenbelt than a wolverine would be,” said Roger Phillips from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
After looking at the photo and consulting with a biologist, Phillips wrote in an email, “definitely a badger.” The giveaway was the “white face with black mark on the cheek” and the body shape. These were also the clues Miller cited.
Though badgers generally have grayer coats, Phillips thought something about the camera, lighting or particular badger might explain why the animal in Vogt’s photo appeared reddish-brown. Vogt said she had not adjusted any of the lighting on the photo and said it appeared that shade in person, too.
Miller also noted the unusual color of the badger. “This is something really important in any wildlife identification; animals are variable in appearance,” he said.
When you get good at identifying wildlife, there’s “almost a feel that you get a sense of” each animal, Miller said.
There are also other clues when pinpointing species. “You look at habitat and then you look at habits,” Miller said.
“We’re in the heart of badger habitat. Badgers are very common in the Treasure Valley, there was one living under the Statehouse for a while,” Phillips said.
He also noted that “wolverines are much more of a high-elevation, high-mountain animal, and are less likely to be down here. But, whenever you’re between ranges, there’s always the possibility if there’s one traveling through.”
Badgers have more of a loping gait than wolverines. Similarly, Miller said, “if you see the animal digging a hole in the ground, and you’re debating if it’s a badger or a wolverine: again, it’s a badger.”
Be sure to give badgers and wolverines distance. According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife website, when threatened, badgers release a “musky scent” similar to that from a skunk.
Wolverines, according to the National Wildlife Federation’s website, also smell bad. So much so that they’re also known as “skunk bears.”
Badgers are most active at night but are also seen in the early morning. Wolverines are rarely spotted.
“Wolverines are pretty secretive animals, they tend to be more in a forested alpine environment. So it’s less likely that they would be down around the Greenbelt,” Phillips said.
This photo of an animal on the Greenbelt launched a debate on social media. Is it a badger or a wolverine? MARY VOGT PROVIDED BY MARY VOGT