Wild Pantex- Unlikely Comrades: Badgers and Coyotes

  • Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2018, 9:35 am

Article by James D. Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist

Natural Resources staff at Pantex has spent a lot of time working within the boundaries of colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs. This has included annual mapping of colony boundaries, spotlight surveys for wildlife, standardized surveys of vegetation and birds, and many projects conducted in collaboration with Texas Tech and West Texas A&M Universities.

One of the most interesting observations ever made by Natural Resources staff at Pantex occurred within a prairie dog colony in mid-summer of 2003. Three of us were in the field collecting data that would later be used to estimate the number of prairie dogs occupying the colony. From west to east, I was conducting counts during scans of my assigned area from a pickup truck, while Monty and Mike were scanning from their elevated perches in blinds normally associated with deer hunting. The procedure required several scans spaced throughout the morning and upon finishing and meeting up, Monty and Mike could hardly contain their excitement about a scene that unfolded first in Monty’s area, and then in Mike’s.

While performing their counts, Mike and Monty observed a badger and young coyote traveling and, apparently, hunting together. At first, there was one coyote and one badger, each one leading at times during their walk. The coyote would occasionally give chase to some small quarry and, unable to keep up, the badger would fall behind. However, as they crossed Mike’s area the parade grew to include five juvenile coyotes and then, after being joined by two adults, seven! Occasionally, the badger would stop and dig, and the coyotes would watch intently as to be ready for anything that might escape the badger.

Upon reaching my office, I immediately began conducting a literature search, expecting that these observations might be of interest to the scientific community, and publishable. Much to my surprise this “association” was well published and, in fact, was the basis of Native American legends.

In preparation for this blog some fifteen years later, I found mentions of badger and coyote associations from many areas in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Some even included trail cam video or still photos. Behaviors observed by Mike and Monty were consistent with the sources, but recorded observations mostly involved one badger and one coyote, sometimes two and, rarely three. Most often the prey involved ground squirrels or prairie dogs.

Even today there remains some question as whether or not this not-so-rare association is mutually beneficial to both the badger and coyote. One study demonstrated that coyotes have chances at one-third more prey when hunting with a badger verses when hunting alone. Prey that escape the badgers’ attempt to dig them out of burrows are pounced upon by the coyotes at a fair level of frequency. Perhaps, also, the badger may obtain additional chances if these escapees manage to survive the coyote’s attempts of capture and are able to slip down a hole. The coyote’s chase and subsequent interest in the hole may alert the badger quickly to where there is potential food, thus negating the badger’s need to spend time and energy searching holes and areas for a meal. Regardless, the two species display a fascinating association with each other.

It is just my luck that from my vantage point I was not able to share in Mike and Monty’s observations that day. But it is good to know that our Wild Pantex can still reveal new things to me, and that our landscape can still host scenes of which history recorded long, long ago.

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