There are many examples of beneficial relationships between animals in the wild, but this unusual hunting party is like none other.
This unique bond between these two predators is a prime example of an ecological interaction called mutualism. Mutualism is a type of symbiotic relationship between pairs of species where all the animals involved benefit from the interactions. Other symbiotic relationships include parasitism as well, where only one of the species benefit from the interactions, while the other one is harmed in the process. However, that’s not the case here.
Photographers and wildlife camera traps often capture pictures and videos of the ultimate hunting duo of a coyote and a badger in forests and national parks across the United States during the summer seasons. But how exactly do they hunt together, and what is their benefit from this?
Both predators are effective hunters, and often go after the same rodents, but their approach is way different when it comes to hunting skills. While the coyote is quick on its feet and mostly relies on chasing its prey across the prairie, badgers are good diggers and rather hunt for prey that burrows below the ground. Therefore, smaller mammals use different tactics depending on whether it’s a coyote or a badger that is after them.
Even though badgers can dig their way towards prey, they are slow in the open and can be outran easily. Coyotes, on the other hand, can catch prey above the ground, so hiding underground is an effective strategy against them. When the badger and coyote combine their skills and work together, though, they can hunt for prairie dogs and ground-squirrels with a lot more success. It’s been showcased many times, that by partnering up, both species have a better chance at catching prey than if they went at it alone. In some cases, only one of them may end up with a meal. But research on the subject suggests that the benefits overweigh these risks, and occasions when the two predators shared the kill have been documented several times.
With the arrival of colder months, however, the need for a partner becomes less and less important for the badger. In winter, they simply dig themselves into the burrows of their hibernating prey for an easy feast.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the two animals have developed a kind of open relationship. So even though most of their interactions appear to be friendly and mutually beneficial, there’s a huge fallout between the two once winter sets in. So much so that sometimes they even prey on each other.
The need for a hunting buddy becomes a priority again for the badger, once the cold weather turns into spring again and animals start waking up from their long winter sleep.
A lot of different kinds of mutualism can be observed in nature. For example, a giant tarantula species keeps a tiny frog as pet, and recently scientists discovered some water buffaloes covered with frog hitchhikers, the the first recorded instance of a mutually beneficial relationship between large mammals and amphibians. However, the badger-coyote hunting party is probably one of the most intriguing examples of animal mutualism on this planet.
Sources: 1, 2, 3