Klemek: Coyotes and badgers make for an unusual team

Outdoors Columnist Blane Klemek
Outdoors Columnist Blane Klemek

I recently watched a fascinating video that was posted on Facebook of a nighttime interaction between a coyote and a badger. A camera mounted near a culvert captured a playful acting coyote, wagging tail and all, greeting a seemingly unassuming badger at the entrance of the culvert. The unlikely duo then entered the culvert together, the coyote leading the way, and disappeared into the darkness on their way underneath the highway to who knows where.

Fascinating to say the least and the oddest of odd couples as I’ve ever seen.

The coyote-badger interaction got me thinking. Was their contact with each other just a fluke encounter? An anomaly? A once-in-a-million chance event? Turns out that such meetings are more common than I had ever imagined, much less considered or even knew about. In fact, genuine, observed, and documented cooperative/mutually beneficial relationships between coyotes and badgers really do occur in Nature. And perhaps with much more frequency than one could ever know.

Known is the fact that coyotes and badgers are both predators and capable of preying on one other. Badgers will prey on very young coyote pups, whereas coyotes, especially more than one coyote working together, are known to prey on both juvenile and adult badgers.


But that coyotes and badgers sometime cooperate with each other in order to coordinate hunting strategies to capture and eat prey is another matter altogether. Somehow along the way where these two species exist together — sharing the same landscape and hunting similar prey — the two species have learned that their respective hunting tactics when performed in unison can benefit both species.

I’ve since learned a few things about this remarkable relationship between coyotes and badgers by conducting a literature search. First, though the behavior has been studied and the resultant research published in peer-reviewed periodical scientific journals, I didn’t uncover a lot of research on the topic. One author, however, did make a statement in his study that “Associations between coyotes and badgers are common,” which surprised me.

In one research project where biologists studied coyotes associating with badgers, the authors concluded that lone coyotes hunting a species of ground squirrel, Uinta ground squirrels, were less successful than coyotes hunting ground squirrels with badgers. “Overall,” the authors wrote, “prey vulnerability appeared to increase when both carnivores hunted in partnership.”

So how and why do coyotes and badgers sometime tag-team their efforts to hunt prey that they normally would be competing for? For this to be mutually beneficial, several conditions evidently must exist. The authors concluded that prey were more vulnerable when both predators hunted together. Badgers, it appeared, were observed spending more time below ground and actively hunting when a coyote or coyotes were near, thereby decreasing the badger’s “locomotion and excavation costs.” Put another way, the badger was able to concentrate its energy on digging for ground squirrels rather than chasing them above ground, too.

Meanwhile, coyotes, hunting above ground of course, were actively hunting ground squirrels that had escaped from the badger’s activities below ground. While coyotes are often successful at capturing the fleeing squirrels above-ground, they’re not able to capture all the escaping ground squirrels. Hence, those squirrels that are able to escape predation from coyotes were quick to escape into burrows, where of course the badger was hunting from. The result?

Win-win for both coyote and badger.

The authors also noted other considerations, such as “... complementary morphological adaptations and predatory strategies, interspecific tolerance, and behavioral flexibility” that allows the species to form these interesting hunting associations. The authors also acknowledged that such relationships are likely influenced by the study area, which had high densities of both predator and prey; long-lived populations of predators; habitat that decreased hunting success by coyotes hunting alone; and an absence of humans or lack of a “... stressful physical environment.” In other words, the study cites where the behavior was most commonly observed were typically preserves and other protected areas such as parks and refuges.

The natural world is full of wonders and surprises where coyotes and badgers — normally competitors as well as mortal enemies — will occasionally associate with one another. That they also will sometimes combine their unique hunting strategies for their mutual benefit is truly an extraordinary feat of tolerance and cooperation as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

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