Predators on the Prairie

A couple of unlikely collaborators have recently given us a lesson on the importance of cooperation and teamwork. And it appears you don’t necessarily have to be friends to benefit. Did you know that coyotes and badgers hunt together? Sherri recently saw 1 coyote and 1 Badger hunting together. The next evening there were 2 coyotes and 2 badgers in one area. The coyotes were never seen very close together but the badgers did interact on one occasion as shown below.

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Collaboration means greater success

When coyotes and badgers team up, the pairs track small, burrowing animals such as prairie dogs and ground squirrels. When the prey is above ground, the coyote can chase it down, and when the prey descends underground the badger takes over. Sherri watched the badger digging into the prairie dog entrance, while the coyote watched above ground. When a prairie dog came out of a nearby hole the coyote immediately reacted, pouncing and the prairie dog escaped by ducking down the hole again. The coyote continued to wait and watch.

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This is a symbiotic relationship where both have more success in the partnership than if they hunted alone. Coyotes with a badger cohort catch an estimated one-third more ground squirrels than solo coyotes. Predation rates for badgers were undetermined due to their below ground activity, however badgers hunting alone spent far more time above ground, than those in associations with coyotes. The coyotes clearly did not inhibit the badgers from resurfacing and I watched badgers resurface and travel in close proximity to the coyote.

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Collaboration does not require sharing

Don’t misunderstand these two are not friends; they are actually competitors for the same meal. It all comes down to saving energy, by sharing the workload. A 3 year study in National Elk refuge found that coyotes hunting with Badgers used less energy via decreased searching, stalking and chasing, they were opportunistic and these associated coyotes captured more prey. Indeed, each animal takes advantage of the other’s hunting adaptations. Coyotes have keener eyesight for spotting prey than badgers. While, badgers can sniff out prey underground.

Research indicates food is never shared, typically badgers would eat their prey underground although the researchers did observe coyotes snatching prey from the badger on a few occasions. All behaviour I (Sherri) observed seemed to be directed toward individual prey capture.

When a frightened squirrel bursts forth from a burrowing hole to escape the badger’s digging claws, it may run straight into the coyote’s waiting jaw. Or when a prairie dog seeks shelter in a burrow from the coyote, it may be quickly followed by the badger who can dig down and snag it. The rodents may stay inside their underground tunnels for protection from a patrolling coyote, giving the badger more opportunity to locate them.

It would be very interesting to learn more about this badger-coyote  competitor/conspirator collaboration.

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