In a viral video making rounds on social media, a coyote and badger look like the two best friends that anyone could have—and people can’t get enough of them.
On February 4, a California environmental conservation group called the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) shared footage from one of their remote sensor cameras that monitor wildlife in Southern Santa Cruz Mountains. The pair are seen innocently frolicking through a tunnel designed to provide wildlife safe passage under highways, but they are most likely embarking on a hunt together.
Although it may seem surprising to novices, coyotes and badgers actually team up to hunt quite frequently. The partnership is featured in Native American storytelling, and scientists have studied coyote-badger cooperation for quite some time. However, this may be the first recorded instance of the behavior in the San Francisco Bay area—and potentially the first time this partnership has been spotted engaging with a human-made structure, as Neal Sharma, POST's wildlife linkages program manager tells Alicia Lee at CNN.
"Having that interaction on film and seeing how these two different animals that lead different lives, how they interact, it's just so exciting,” Sharma tells CNN.
When it comes to hunting, coyotes and badgers will form short-term alliances to catch ground-dwelling creatures, which usually occurs in rural and open areas such as Wyoming, Montana and Oregon. The most common combination is one coyote and one badger, although two coyotes will sometimes join forces, Campbell-Smith says. Since both the coyote and badger are carnivores and predators, they’ll rely on each other’s hunting styles.
For example, the badger can dig into a squirrel’s den, which scares the animal and allows the coyote to chase it, National Geographic reports. Or the coyote can drive their prey underground for the badger, who is a digging expert, to dig and kill. This tag-team killing style saves energy and increases efficiency because the animals don’t have to individually search and chase their own prey.
"It's not these cold, robotic animals taking advantage of each other—they're instead at ease and friendly,” Jennifer Campbell-Smith, an independent behavioral ecologist, tells Christine Dell'Amore at National Geographic.
But beyond the sheer cuteness of the badger trotting to catch up to its coyote companion, the video is informing researchers about how animals interact with man-made structures around their habitats. POST, in partnership with Pathways for Wildlife, set up 50 remote sensor cameras at bridges and culverts to better understand “areas of safe passage” for wildlife, reports Joshua Botes for USA Today.
"People understand that we need to protect key areas of habitat and development and we need to sometimes restore habitats there,” Sharma tells CNN. “But there's this other side, and it's the reality of trying to conserve wildlife in very densely populated urban areas that have highways crisscrossing the landscape.”
But the adaptability of the coyote is something to celebrate. Over the years, coyotes have spread from coast to coast, moving as south as Panama and as north as Canada, explains William C. Pitt, a biologist at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the National Zoo. They adapt depending on their location and take advantage of any available resource.
“[The video] is celebrating animals that are so opportunistic and adaptable to human disturbance in the landscape,” says Pitt. “It’s one of the most exciting things.”