Badgers and coyotes sometimes hunt together

Ohio is the eastern edge of the badger’s range in North America, but so far they have only been found in western parts parts of the state where the glaciers didn’t go. Division of Wildlife photographer Tim Daniel spotted this one 15 years ago in Ashland County. (Tim Daniel, Ohio Division of Wildlife, photo)

Few residents are aware that Ohio is the eastern edge of the badger’s range in North America. As in other parts of the country, these solitary, burrowing animals are seldom seen unless they become victims of vehicles.

Yet in recent years, these elusive creatures have become internet stars, and for an unexpected reason: Instead of being wary of a larger predator that could pose a danger, some badgers will team up with a coyote as a hunting partner.

Native Americans and early settlers knew of this phenomenon which was first documented in a paper published in American Naturalist in 1884. These days it’s the subject of articles and viral videos.


The badger may be nature’s excavating machine. There are five massive claws, each two or three inches long, on its front paws. Plus its legs are muscular and powerful.

“In Ohio, badgers tend to take what they can get,” said Katie Dennison, wildlife biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife. It’s no accident that the diets of badgers in the state consist largely of mice especially in agricultural areas.

But in western prairies, their preferred habitat, they will go after ground squirrels, prairie dogs and other burrowing animals. If those animals see or sense a predator, they will try to run into their burrow. The badger’s strategy is to dig and block the entrance, then tunnel into another part of the den.

If a coyote is a partner in crime, it will wait to catch any critters that are too slow to make it into the burrow, or that escape the badger’s trap.

A video by nature photographer Sparky Stensaas shows a badger and coyote hunting for prairie dogs in Teddy Roosevelt National Park. When they come to a den, the badger gets busy moving mounds of earth while the coyote waits a short distance away.

The badgers seem to do most of the work — and get more of the prey — in these cooperative ventures. Still, scientists say, the partnerships benefit both species, saving them energy compared to hunting alone.

They say it also increases their odds of success. In the coyote’s case, it might improve the chances of getting a meal by as much as 34 percent.

But another video that went viral on social media shows what is perhaps an added benefit to team hunting. In February of 2020, a coyote and badger were recorded on a camera set up by the Peninsula Open Space Trust to monitor wildlife near the Santa Cruz Mountains in California.

The two were filmed at a tunnel under a highway, probably on their way to some hunting grounds. When the slower badger catches up, the coyote wags its tail and “play bows” the way dogs do when inviting another dog or human to have some fun. The two then trot off together disappearing into the dark.

“The value of this video is that it conveys companionship, a camaraderie,” Stan Gehrt, wildlife ecologist with Ohio State University, said at the time. “They seemed happy to be with each other.”

Badgers are difficult to spot because they spend the day in their burrows, and may switch burrows every few days. This one may be practicing a hunting technique in which the badger hides its burrow, then ambushes any prey animal that happens to pass by. (Tim Daniel, Ohio Division of Wildlife, photo)


In Ohio, badgers can use their digging/trapping technique to go after burrowing animals like groundhogs and voles. Mice and chipmunks dig burrows as well, but they also spend a lot of time above ground, Dennison said. In that case, badgers can use a different technique: hiding in one of their burrows and ambushing the prey as it wanders by.

While their range may be as large as seven square miles in flatter more open states like Illinois, the badger’s range in Ohio is usually between one and four square miles, Dennison said. Badgers dig several burrows within that range, sometimes moving from one to another every few days.

“They’re hard to spot because they’re only active at night, maybe in the early morning,” she said. “They spend their days sleeping in the burrow.”

A map of Ohio has purple stars for badgers sighted between 2000 and 2009, and yellow stars for those documented between 2010 and 2020. All the stars are in the western areas of the state where glaciers advanced and receded, flattening the terrain. There are a few clusters in northwest and western counties known for agriculture.

Most of the purple stars resulted from a four-year study by Gehrt and his colleagues. Because badgers are so rarely seen during the day, most of the “sightings” were images on trail cams or, more often, road kill.

These are American badgers, as opposed to the European genus, and they are native to North America. Their range spans from west of the Rocky Mountains north to Central Canada, south to Central Mexico and east to Ohio and Ontario.

They’re limited by soil type — preferably sandy or loam — and need flat or gently rolling terrain like the prairies from whence they came. So far, these relatives of the weasel have not been found in the rocky, hilly landscapes of eastern and southern Ohio where the glaciers never reached.

“Ohio is the very edge of their continental distribution, so it’s typical to have a small number of individuals,” Gehrt said.“Badgers are very rare in Ohio, and probably always will be.”

Being so few and far between, male and female badgers probably have difficulty finding each other, he said. When they do, they mate in the summer, yet the females don’t give birth until the following spring.

That’s because the females have the ability to delay implantation, storing three or four embryos until February, then allowing them to implant in the uterus. They give birth in April about the same time as coyotes and other mammals that mate in February.

The female shoos the male away and raises the young by herself. They’re usually weaned by June, although they may stay in the den a little longer. Then they have to go find their own range which may mean traveling a long way and crossing some of Ohio’s many busy roads.

Badgers are “pretty fearless,” Gehrt said, plus they’re not very fast. If they see a car coming they may not back down or get across the road in time.


They’re not as roly-poly as they look. The appearance of waddling comes from their long fur rather than fat. Their fur is “really colorful, orangish or reddish-orange, topped by a cream color,” he said.

Then there’s the distinctive black and white face and ears and the white stripe from nose to neck. “The black patches on their face, called “badges,” may be where they got their name,” Gehrt said.

He and others wish there were more badgers in Ohio because they are beneficial to the ecosystem. Their burrowing helps the soil, turning it over, transferring nutrients, moving nitrogen and increasing oxygen. Since they’re opportunistic feeders that sometimes eat grapes or gooseberries, they help spread native plant seeds.

“They also benefit other species,” he said. “Once the badgers are gone, they leave burrows for other animals. Possums, woodchucks, foxes, skunks and ground squirrels use the abandoned badger dens.”

The fact that they sometimes pair up with coyotes to hunt makes badgers special in the animal kingdom. “It’s very rare having two different species helping each other,” Gehrt said.

And the California video indicates that some members of the two species become buddies instead of just business partners.

“There are even cases of coyotes and badgers sharing dens,” Gehrt said.


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