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Unlikely Hunting Partners

On the American plains, squirrels are the food of choice for both the coyote and the badger.

Coyote in the wilderness

Photo: donjd2 (flickr)

Coyotes like this one in Palo Alto, California sometimes work with badgers in the summer to hunt squirrels

On the American plains in summer, plentiful ground squirrels are the food of choice for both the coyote and the badger. Because they’re after the same food source, you might think that badgers and coyotes would be rather intolerant of each other’s presence, but this isn’t the case. Naturalists working in northwestern Wyoming have found that these species sometimes team up, and hunt as a pair.

Ground squirrels, as the name implies, are quite at home underground. They live in extensive burrows–complex sets of tunnels with many entrances and exits. Badgers, who are great burrowers themselves, hunt by digging down and trying to corner the squirrels in their own underground passages. Badgers are relatively helpless, however, if the squirrel escapes out an unanticipated exit hole. Coyotes can’t dig as well as badgers, but they’re great at chasing down a squirrel that’s been flushed from its underground home.

Naturalists Kathryn and Steven Minta have found that badgers and coyotes hunting together can cover both areas, and capture more squirrels together than either would be able to alone. Indeed, they have observed badger and coyote pairs traveling together over a period of weeks, hunting and resting together. It’s no wonder that some Native American cultures refer to the two species as cousins, or that “badger,” in the Aztec language, means “coyote of the Earth.”

This is a fair-weather friendship though. It usually lasts as long as the summer, when squirrels are plentiful and both species can benefit from each other’s cooperation. In winter, however, only badgers can effectively hunt the hibernating squirrels, so coyotes pursue other types of food, including, you guessed it, badgers.

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