Although mostly solitary, honey badgers may hunt together in pairs during the May breeding season. Little is known of the honey badger's breeding habits. Its gestation period is thought to last six months, usually resulting in two cubs, which are born blind. They vocalise through plaintive whines. Its lifespan in the wild is unknown, though captive individuals have been known to live for approximately 24 years.
Honey badgers live alone in self-dug holes. They are skilled diggers, able to dig tunnels into hard ground in 10 minutes. These burrows usually only have one passage and a nesting chamber and are usually only 1–3 m long. They do not place bedding into the nesting chamber. Although they usually dig their own burrows, they may take over disused aardvark and warthog holes or termitemounds.
Honey badgers are intelligent animals and are one of a few species known to be capable of using tools. In the 1997 documentary series Land of the Tiger, a honey badger in India was filmed making use of a tool; the animal rolled a log and stood on it to reach a kingfisher fledgling stuck up in the roots coming from the ceiling in an underground cave. A video made at the Moholoholo rehab centre in South Africa showed a pair of honey badgers using sticks, a rake, heaps of mud and stones to escape from their walled pit.
As with other mustelids of relatively large size, such as wolverines and badgers, honey badgers are notorious for their strength, ferocity and toughness. They have been known to savagely and fearlessly attack almost any kind of animal when escape is impossible, reportedly even repelling much larger predators such as lions. Bee stings, porcupine quills, and animal bites rarely penetrate their skin. If horses, cattle, or Cape buffalos intrude upon a ratel's burrow, it will attack them. They are virtually tireless in combat and can wear out much larger animals in physical confrontations. The aversion of most predators toward hunting honey badgers has led to the theory that the countershaded coats of cheetah kittens evolved in imitation of the honey badger's colouration to ward off predators.
The voice of the honey badger is a hoarse "khrya-ya-ya-ya" sound. When mating, males emit loud grunting sounds. Cubs vocalise through plaintive whines. When confronting dogs, honey badgers scream like bear cubs.
Next to the wolverine, the honey badger has the least specialised diet of the weasel family. In undeveloped areas, honey badgers may hunt at any time of the day, though they become nocturnalin places with high human populations. When hunting, they trot with their foretoes turned in. Honey badgers favour bee honey, and will often search for beehives to get it, which earns them their name. They are also carnivorous and will eat insects, frogs, tortoises, rodents, turtles, lizards, snakes, eggs, and birds. Honey badgers have even been known to chase away young lions and take their kills. They will eat fruit and vegetables, such as berries, roots and bulbs. They'll often look to honeyguides (a bird species that eats bee larvae) guide the honey badger.
They may hunt frogs and rodents, such as gerbils and ground squirrels, by digging them out of their burrows. Honey badgers are able to feed on tortoises without difficulty, due to their powerful jaws. They kill and eat snakes, even highly venomous or large ones, such as cobras. They have been known to dig up human corpses in India. They devour all parts of their prey, including skin, hair, feathers, flesh and bones, holding their food down with their forepaws. When seeking vegetable food, they lift stones or tear bark from trees.
The species ranges through most of sub-Saharan Africa, from the Western Cape, South Africa, to southern Morocco and southwestern Algeria and outside Africa through Arabia, Iran and western Asia to Turkmenistan and the Indian Peninsula. It is known to range from sea level to as much as 2,600 m above sea level in the Moroccan High Atlas and 4,000 m in Ethiopia's Bale Mountains.