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Badgers are short-legged omnivores in the family Mustelidae, which also includes the otters, polecats, weasels, and wolverines. They belong to the caniform suborder of carnivoran mammals. The 11 species of badgers are grouped in three subfamilies: Melinae (Eurasian badgers), Mellivorinae (the honey badger or ratel), and Taxideinae (the American badger). The Asiatic stink badgers of the genus Mydaus were formerly included within Melinae (and thus Mustelidae), but recent genetic evidence indicates these are actually members of the skunk family, placing them in the taxonomic family Mephitidae.

They include the species in the genera Arctonyx, Meles, Mellivora, Melogale and Taxidea. Badger mandibular condyles connect to long cavities in their skulls, giving resistance to jaw dislocation and increasing their bite grip strength, but in turn limiting jaw movement to hinging open and shut, or sliding from side to side but not the twisting movement possible for the jaws of most mammals.

Badgers have rather short, wide bodies, with short legs for digging. They have elongated, weasel-like heads with small ears. Their tails vary in length depending on species; the stink badger has a very short tail, while the ferret badger's tail can be 46–51 cm (18–20 in) long, depending on age. They have black faces with distinctive white markings, grey bodies with a light-coloured stripe from head to tail, and dark legs with light-coloured underbellies. They grow to around 90 cm (35 in) in length including tail.

The European badger is one of the largest; the American badger, the hog badger, and the honey badger are generally a little smaller and lighter. Stink badgers are smaller still, and ferret badgers smallest of all. They weigh around 9–11 kg (20–24 lb), with some Eurasian badgers around 18 kg (40 lb).

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