Like an odd couple out of a Warner Brothers cartoon or a lost Aesop’s fable, a coyote and American badger were caught on video journeying through a highway culvert in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains. The clip, captured by the nonprofit Peninsula Open Space Trust, has been widely shared on social media. It has charmed viewers with the implied friendship between the two and the contrast between the coyote’s excited bounds and the badger’s plodding walk. This isn’t the first time these two species have been captured on camera in one another’s company, and whatever friendship they might get out of the arrangement, data suggests that the animals benefit by pairing up to hunt.
A coyote and a badger use a culvert as a wildlife crossing to pass under a busy California highway together. Coyotes and badgers are known to hunt together.
🎥Peninsula Open Space Trust pic.twitter.com/oS9BL5JOoK
— Russ McSpadden (@PeccaryNotPig) February 4, 2020
Peninsula Open Space Trust says that scientific studies and Native American knowledge provide evidence for badgers and coyotes teaming up to hunt prey. A 1992 study from the University of California indicated that by working together, coyotes and badgers were more successful in taking down Unita ground squirrels than coyotes hunting alone.
A 2017 survey that used wildlife cameras to track Canada lynx in north-central Washington recorded five instances of coyotes and American badgers associating with one another. The research team, which included Arthur Scully, a Ph.D. candidate in Environmental and Life Sciences at Trent University, captured two photos of a coyote and badger travelling together in the same image, and three instances where the species appeared in consecutive photos taken less than ten minutes apart. The images show “relatively aggressive carnivores that aren’t even in the same family hanging out together,” says Scully. “There’s definitely something going on. They’re getting some benefit from being this close to each other.”
The images reveal that we don’t know much about what’s going on in these coyote-badger hangouts. “I’m guessing that they are benefitting from hunting together,” says Scully. Badgers primarily eat animals that live underground, like ground squirrels. Their short legs and stature prevents them from chasing down squirrels and rabbits aboveground. But they have huge claws and they’re able to dig down to the burrows of prey animals. These underground prey structures have multiple exits, says Scully, so having two animals working together to cover the escape routes may result in a higher yield of food.
Learning more about this relationship is challenging—American badgers are difficult to track in the wild. Their necks are the same size as their head, making it impossible to outfit them with a GPS collar, says Scully. Wildlife camera traps provide an alternative method of getting a first-hand look at their behaviour. “Camera traps are wonderful. They are not invasive. You get a lot of information that’s location-specific,” says Scully.
The case of the coyote and American badger friendship shows that there is plenty to discover from wildlife cameras about how carnivores live their daily lives. In Canada, the American badger is an endangered species, so there’s work to be done. “There’s definitely a lot more we don’t know about these animals,” says Scully. “Every day we’re learning more and more about how dynamic they are.”