While it’s true that the fierce American badger is the most solitary (and one of the more volatile) of the badger species, that doesn’t mean that they spend all their time alone. In fact, American badgers have been observed for generations hunting alongside an unlikely partner – the coyote. Cooperative hunting of ground squirrels between coyotes and badgers is well-documented, with this symbiotic partnership first being referenced in several sacred Native American texts before European settlers arrived in North America.
Scientists have been studying this symbiotic interspecific interaction between the American badger and the coyote for decades. These unlikely hunting partners each have a unique set of skills that, when combined, increases prey vulnerability and allows each member of the party to conserve more energy. The most common hunting situation observed is a lone badger hunting with a single coyote, but occasionally you’ll see one badger working with a pair of coyotes. More coyotes hunt with badgers than hunt alone, and coyotes with badger cohorts are able to catch approximately 1/3 more prey than a coyote hunting alone.
Coyotes are quick, nimble, and spry and are considerably better at chasing prey than the slow and unwieldy badger. Badgers may be a tad bit uncoordinated above ground, but they make up for it by being exemplary diggers. Badgers have evolved to pursue small ground-dwelling animals. Their wedge-shaped heads are just the right shape for diving head-first into holes and burrows, and their long, sharp claws are perfectly designed to dig and catch prey underground.
When it’s time to hunt, the coyote usually spots the prey above-ground and begins to chase. The badger will then attempt to corner the prey underground, while the coyote waits at the burrow's exit for the prey to emerge. While only one of the hunters may end up with the meal, the collaboration ultimately pays off long-term. Badgers with a coyote as a hunting partner will increase prey vulnerability significantly. Both species will end up consuming a higher rate of food, and badgers that hunt with coyotes ultimately tend to have lower locomotion costs and an expanded habitat base.
The badger and the coyote have had a pretty great thing going on for generations, but it is not a totally perfect partnership by any means. When two powerful predators spend time together, an occasional butting of heads is inevitable. The badger and the coyote have been known to prey on each other, but those instances are few and far between and generally only occur when an adult coyote attacks a vulnerable adolescent badger. This incredibly special two-species social system, even with its imperfections, still astounds and fascinates the scientists who continue to study these unlikely hunting buddies.