A-z - Animals

Top 9 Animals That Burrow Underground

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key point

  • A burrowing animal is an animal that spends most of its life in a burrow, not just an animal that creates a burrow but does not spend most of its time in it.
  • Caves have a network of tunnels and rooms that serve different purposes, such as food storage, sleeping quarters or nurseries.
  • Rodents are known to burrow underground, such as naked mole rats, bilby and moles. Insects such as mouse spiders and termites are also known to burrow.

The number of animals that burrow is staggering. Dogs and wolves and even polar bears dig holes for themselves and their families, but do they count as burrowing animals? For the purposes of this blog, a burrowing animal is an animal that spends most of its life in burrows, which have a network of tunnels and chambers that serve different purposes, such as food storage, sleeping quarters, or nurseries.

Here are nine of those animals:

#9. Animals That Burrow: Naked Mole Rats

animal, burrowing underground naked mole rat
Naked mole rats in the basement eat while holding food with their dexterous claws. A quarter of a mole's muscle mass is in its jaw.

©Neil Bromhall/Shutterstock.com

The odd critter lives in colonies more like ants and termites than mammals. The colony is ruled by a queen, who is the only female allowed to reproduce. As with bees, reproduction is her only job, and all the other naked mole rats in the colony are responsible for raising young, protecting the colony from intruders, and keeping tunnels and rooms in order.

Naked mole rats are nearly blind, but don't need to see very well in the eternal darkness of their burrows. These amazing creatures, found in East Africa, can go long without oxygen, have a high pain threshold, and don't seem to really age. Their lifespan is surprisingly long for a rodent. They are known to live up to 30 years.

#8. Animals That Burrow: Mouse Spiders

Animals That Burrow: Mouse Spiders
Mouse spiders are a type of trapdoor spider that are sometimes mistaken for funnel-web spiders.

© Vinicius R. Souza/Shutterstock.com

The females of these hardy spiders in Australia build burrows and spend most of their lives in them. Female mouse spiders are solid black, while some males have species-specific colors, such as the red-headed mouse spider.

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This spider's burrow is 8 to 22 inches deep and is lined with silk. Outside the main tunnel there is a room with a trapdoor to protect the adult spider, her eggs, and hatchlings from predators. Some mouse spider burrows have two doors, while others have only one. The silky triplet lets the spider know if prey or an interested male is nearby.

#7. Animals That Burrow: Groundhogs

Animals That Burrow: Groundhogs
Two groundhogs on the grass. Their vocabulary is more advanced than any other deciphered animal language.

©AB Photographie/Shutterstock.com

The prairie dog is a species of squirrel known for its "towns" that consist of burrows. It is mainly found in the western United States and Mexico. Although these burrows can sometimes cause problems for farmers and ranchers, they play an important role in the ecosystem, and groundhogs are protected in some areas.

Groundhogs live in grasslands throughout the Great Plains. Their population health affects many other species, so they are one of the important species in the west. Groundhogs are very social, living in large colonies in underground burrows. In the wild, they live 3 to 5 years, but can live longer in captivity.

The burrows are built in such a way that the groundhogs that live in them can stay warm in winter and cool in summer. They are well ventilated, keep tunnels and chambers from flooding, and can be up to 33 feet long and nearly 10 feet deep. Burrows can have as many as six entrances and have rooms for babies, night sleeping rooms, winter shelters, and rooms to hide from and even listen for predators.

#6. Animals That Burrow: The Bilby

Animals That Burrow: The Bilby
Captive bilby on red soil. The pouch of a female bilby opens downward to prevent dirt from entering when digging.

©Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.com

Another resident of Australia, the bilby has long rabbit-like ears, a kangaroo-like body and a possum-like tail. This is a marsupial in which the female's pouch is flared back to keep dirt out as she digs her burrow. Bilbies are known to live an average of 6 to 10 years.

Bilby burrows are unique in that they spiral downwards, which provide the animals with additional shelter from predators. The tunnels can be 10 feet long and 6.5 feet deep, and a bilby usually has more than one. After leaving the mother's pouch, the young bilbies remain in the burrow while the mother leaves to forage at sunset. Both female and male rabbit-eared rabbits have burrows, and male rabbit-eared rabbits will not only leave scents at the entrance of their burrows, but also the entrance of the female rabbit with whom they have recently mated. This should deter other male bilbies.

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#5. Animals that burrow into the ground: Moles

Animals that burrow into the ground: Moles
There is a mole outside his burrow. These critters paralyze worms and insects with the venom in their saliva.

©Carmen Rieb/Shutterstock.com

Moles of the Talpidae family are well adapted to a burrowing lifestyle. Its expertise at burrowing and digging makes it a bit of a pest in many places. European mole rats, found entering Russia from western Europe and the east, live in a central chamber from which many tunnels radiate. Because the mole rat lives mostly underground, it doesn't need good eyesight, so its eyes are small. At the same time, its senses of smell, touch and hearing are also very keen.

Moles have soft, bushy fur and large, outward-facing front paws with strong claws and extra thumbs. The hind paws are smaller, but its shoulder muscles are strong. Moles love earthworms, and their saliva actually contains a toxin that temporarily paralyzes them. This allowed the mole to take it back to a room used as storage so it could eat fresh worms later. Interestingly, moles are excellent swimmers, and the North American star-nosed mole is named for the tiny tentacles that help the animal find prey in the water.

Although mole rat species and habitats vary, their lifespans remain similar — anywhere from 3 to 6 years. While most moles live for 3 years, some live much longer.

#4. Animals that burrow underground: termites

Animals that burrow underground: termites
Termites are known as "silent destroyers" because of their ability to chew on wood, floors and even wallpaper without being noticed.

© Mr. Parichat chaikuad/Shutterstock.com

While some termite mounds can grow many feet above the ground and persist for centuries, they also form burrows or nests in the ground and in decaying wood. Termites are everywhere on Earth except Antarctica. They build their nests out of feces, soil, and partially eaten wood or other plant material, and some termite species build many interconnected nests called termite nests. These nests are as intricate as any apartment complex and serve many of the same functions. They protect termites from the elements, predators, and disease, and are where young are raised and food is stored.

termite burrowing
As shown here, termites burrow underground.

© Witsawat.S/Shutterstock.com

As with the mole, there is a queen who is fertile and a king who is a life mate. There may be secondary or tertiary queens. Soldiers guard the nest, while worker ants are in charge of pretty much everything else, including caring for the queen bee, whose abdomen is sometimes swollen from eggs and immobilized. They keep the nest intact and take care of the eggs and nymphs. Worker ants are also termites that find food, digest cellulose, and feed their nestmates.

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#3. Animals That Burrow: Badgers

Animals That Burrow: Badgers
European badger, Meles meles, drinking from a forest lake, reflecting itself on the calm water.

© Martin Mecnarowski/Shutterstock.com

Badgers are also good at burrowing, with their stocky, low-to-the-ground bodies and long, strong claws. Most badgers are related to weasels and have a diagnostically long head, long snout, and small ears. They are found all over the world except South America, Australia, and the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Badgers' burrows are called setts, and they can live there by themselves or in family groups called cetes.

Like a groundhog's burrow, a badger's nest has multiple entrances and interconnecting tunnels. The tunnel can extend 980 feet and is 6.6 feet deep, with rooms for raising babies or sleeping. The tunnel is wide enough to accommodate the badger's large body. Often, debris such as old bedding or even the old bones of dead badgers will be found piled up at the entrance of the settlement. Usually there is one large moon surrounded by many moons.

Badgers don't even have to burrow in the soil. They have been known to dig under building foundations, sidewalks and paved roads. In places where it gets very cold, badgers will dig out sleeping rooms below the frost line, and many badgers will sleep in the same room to keep warm.

Here are some of the different types of badgers and how long their life cycles are:

badger average life expectancy
american badger 10 years
Honey badger 24 years old
european badger 5 to 8 years old
Japanese badger 19 years

#2. Animals That Burrow: Burrowing Owls

Animals That Burrow: Burrowing Owls
A burrowing owl protecting its home. The Burrowing Owl is one of the smallest owls in North America.

©Mauricio S Ferreira/Shutterstock.com

Burrowing owls are one of the few birds that live in proper burrows. In fact, it most often enters burrows vacated by groundhogs. It is found on the grasslands of North and South America.

This little owl is also unusual in that it is active during the day, while other owls are nocturnal. Like prairie dogs, they sometimes live in colonies of other burrowing owls, and sometimes live close to farms, roads, and houses. They have even been spotted on airport runways. Another interesting feature of the burrowing owl is that if threatened, it not only retreats to its burrow, but also makes a sound to alert its pursuers to a dangerous rattlesnake.

Burrowing owls build their nests in burrows, lined with cow dung. This helps control the environment and attracts insect prey. It also spreads this droppings around the entrance of the burrow. During the breeding season, the female incubates the eggs, the male feeds them, and after the chicks hatch, both parents share care.

#1. Animals that burrow into the ground: Rabbits

Animals that burrow into the ground: Rabbits
Happy bunnies practice an adorable behavior known as 'binky': they jump into the air and wiggle and twirl

©Anna Ipatjeva/Shutterstock.com

Rabbit burrows are called warrens, which are interconnected burrows. Rabbit nests can be made from rabbits or artificial in the form of pillow mounds. They have multiple openings and multiple chambers and are usually about 6.5 feet deep. Rabbits usually build them on slopes, on the banks of rivers or streams because of better drainage, but they can build a warren almost anywhere a rabbit can dig. Rabbits spend most of the day in their burrows and come out to feed at night.

When it's time to reproduce, the female builds a separate burrow within the warren, called a dock, and lines it with her own fur and plant material. After the baby is born, the mother seals off the chamber with dirt while she forages. This keeps the baby rabbits warm and protects them from threats, which, by the way, may include their own fathers.

Outline of animals that burrow into the ground

rank animal
1 rabbit
2 burrowing owl
3 badger
4 termite
5 mole
6 Bilby
7 marmot
8 mouse spider
9 naked mole rat


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My name is Rebecca and I have been a professional freelancer for nearly ten years. I write SEO content and graphic design. When I'm not working, I'm obsessed with cats and pet mice.

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