Coyote got up early one morning feeling unusually full of pep. He trotted along the ridge of a wash just as the sun was beginning to appear on the distant horizon. as ran, he spotted a small, lumbering figure moving slowly below him. He loped down to see who it was and recognized Badger. “Greetings, brother!” he called. Quietly Badger wished him a good morning.
Coyote had already hatched a plot to get the best of Badger, so as the two paused to visit, Coyote said: “Brother, it’s such a fine day that we shouldn’t waste it just wandering around. Why don’t we have a contest and a wager? Let’s each spend the day hunting rabbits, and at sunset we’ll return to this spot with our catch. Whoever kills the most rabbits gets to spend the night with the other’s wife. What do you say, brother Badger?”
At first Badger did not think this was such a good idea, but fearing that Coyote would call him a coward, he accepted.As the two set out in opposite directions, Coyote felt there was no way he could lose. While he ran, he imagined how it would be to spend the night with Badger Woman. After a while he spotted a jackrabbit nibbling grass in a shady spot, and he took off after it, yelling “Yip! Yip! Yip!” – Excerpt from a Tewa legend
This myth, however, appears to be based on fact. The Native American’s who lived on the plains had generations to watch the local fauna and it’s not surprising that their stories would reflect what they saw. Coyotes and badgers do have a fleeting transitory relationship with each other. Like in the myth they are sometimes competitors, sometimes enemies, and even occasionally partners.
Their mutualism in particular comes out through hunting. It’s not commonly seen, but North American badgers (Taxidea taxu) will pair off with coyotes (Canis latrans) to hunt rodents. The coyote, being a fast agile hunter will chase the prey until it is either caught or dives into its burrow. Coyotes can’t dig well and this is usually the end of the hunt.
That’s where the badger comes in. Armed with its tough claws and powerful arms, the badger will begin tearing through the burrow entrance. If the prey can escape out a back way, the badger won’t be able to catch up. But that’s where the coyotes comes in again, waiting, watching, ready to pounce.
What’s particularly interesting about this interaction is that coyotes can and, given the opportunity, will eat badgers. Just like in myths, it seems that this relationship is a varied and complex companionship between two solitary animals. Scientists are just now starting to take a serious look at this mutualism. For a long time it simply wasn’t believed that this could happen. We now know that it does and that it does seem to be more profitable than solo hunting on its own, although concrete conclusions are still elusive, especially as to whether this is straight up cooperation or both species simultaneously trying to steal from each other. The food is not shared, after all. It’s catch as catch can. But hunting together catches more rodents than hunting alone and you can’t argue with that.
A final note. Similar anthropomorphic pairings occur in both European and Asian literature as well. The fox and the badger both feature in European folk tales and like in the Native American myths the sly fox competes with the sturdy badger. And far away in Japan a similar pattern repeats itself. Both the Japanese fox and the tanuki (which are often mistakenly called badgers and share many characteristics) are shape-shifting yokai with a penchant for mischief. The fox changes its form to tempt travellers, the tanuki to fool them. Both supernatural creatures sprang from the same mythological foundations in ancient China and, once again, seem to alternately compete and coordinate with each other.
Perhaps the Laurel and Hardy-esque personas (a skinny slickster and a rotund straight-man) to a basic literary theme of human psychology.