For quite some time now, scientists have known that coyotes and badgers in the American West hunt cooperatively for small mammals. Even Native American mythology features this unusual partnership. Recently, a remote camera video clip captured a badger and coyote side by side as if they are the best of friends. This was under a busy highway, somewhere in the Santa Cruz Mountain area in California.
This unusual phenomenon was thought to be purely transactional. But what amazed and excited scientists, was that this particular duo seemed that they knew each other well, as individuals. Behavioral ecologist Jennifer Campbell-Smith, pointed out that it’s not “these cold, robotic animals taking advantage of each other – they’re instead at ease and friendly.” The coyote is observed wagging its tail and bowing down playfully, like signalling the badger to follow it into the tunnel. Badgers are fearless creatures that normally don’t socialize with other species. But this one seemed at ease with the coyote, even lifting its tail to move more quickly and keep up with the coyote. Badgers are notoriously grumpy, but this one was showing happy behavior, according to Campbell-Smith. “I wouldn’t scientifically want to use the term friends, but these are two wild animals that clearly understand their partnership.”
The video was taken by the non-profit group Peninsula Open Space Trust, and is an essential discovery for scientists. It shows the first example of a coyote-badger cooperation taken in the San Francisco Bay Area, and also possibly the first video showing two species sharing a tunnel that allows water to flow under a road and wildlife to bypass highways. Campbell-Smith says that such clips help “people see that, oh wait, just like I can have a friendship with a dog, they can too.” She adds, “It’s not a human thing, all animals can collaborate.”
Coyotes and badgers sometimes form short-term alliances to hunt ground dwelling creatures. Particularly in open expanses with relatively high densities of predators and prey, such as in Oregon, Montana, and Wyoming. Usually a collaboration of one coyote and one badger, or at times 2 coyotes and a badger (2 badgers have not been observed). It is not known exactly how this relationship starts, and whether it is a learned behavior from the species’ parents, Campbell-Smith explains. The association is definitely mutually beneficial – carnivores complement each other’s hunting styles. For example, a badger may scare up a squirrel, which the coyote can run and catch. And if a coyote drives a prey underground, the badger, skilled at digging, will get his meal. So, research shows that coyotes and badgers that hunt together are more effective at getting food.Observations in Wyoming show that coyotes that team up with badgers save energy and time by not having to search, chase, and stalk ground squirrels.
Studies also have shown that these alliances are more common in rural areas untouched by humans. According to Megan Draheim, a conservation biologist at Virginia Tech and founder of the District Coyote Project, this is what makes the video more exciting. “This is a great reflection of how much nature and wilderness there can be in urban areas, and why it’s important to think about nature and plan for it.” She also adds that the video also gives the public a glimpse of a coyote’s playful side. “ It’s amazing how close that [coyote in the video] mirrors the playfulness of our own dogs.” Coyotes are quite intelligent and interact with other animals around them. Badgers are normally not as sociable as coyotes, but this one seems to be the more sociable badger around. Unusual to see a coyote-badger bonding, but there it is.