The American badger has most of the general characteristics common to badgers; with stocky and low-slung bodies with short, powerful legs, they are identifiable by their huge foreclaws (measuring up to 5 cm in length) and distinctive head markings. Measuring generally between 60 to 75 cm (23.6 to 29.5 inches) in length, males of the species are slightly larger than females (with an average weight of roughly 7 kg (15.5 pounds) for females and up to almost 9 kg (19.8 pounds) for males). Northern subspecies such as T. t. jeffersonii are heavier than the southern subspecies. In the fall, when food is plentiful, adult male badgers can exceed 11.5 kg (25.3 pounds).
Except for the head, the American badger is covered with a grizzled, silvery coat of coarse hair or fur. Its triangular face shows a distinctive black and white pattern, with brown or blackish “badges” marking the cheeks and a white stripe extending from the nose to the base of the head. In the subspecies T. t. berlandieri, the white head stripe extends the full length of the body, to the base of the tail.
American badgers are largely nocturnal, but have been reported to be active during the day as well. They do not hibernate, but become less active in winter. A badger may spend much of the winter in cycles of torpor that last around 29 hours. They do emerge from their setts when the temperature is above freezing.
Badgers sometimes use abandoned burrows of other animals such as foxes or animals similar in size. They will sometimes form a mutually beneficial relationship with coyotes. Because coyotes are not very effective at digging rodents out of their burrows, they will chase the animals while they are above ground. Badgers, in contrast, are not fast runners, but are well adapted to digging. When hunting together, the two animals effectively leave little escape for prey in the area