We all know very well that moles love to dig through our yards, but there are many animals that dig holes in the wild too. In today’s article, we’ll be taking a dig (pun intended) at all the animals that burrow.
Take a look at the animals that dig holes from the list below:
- Burrowing Owls
- Prairie Dogs
1. Burrowing Owls
Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
You might be wondering why would an owl be burrowing itself in the ground? After all, they have wings – isn’t burrowing the literal opposite of what they should be doing?
Well, this isn’t the only unusual thing about this owl – it’s also mainly active during the day, unlike its cousins. Just like all other burrowing animals, it burrows for protection.
It will spend the entire day there, waiting for prey to arrive and strike. It’s also capable of producing a noise very similar to that of a rattlesnake to scare potential predators away.
Scientific name (class): Insecta
You probably know that most species of ants and termites spend the majority of their time underground. However, they’re not the only ones to do so. Just by sheer numbers, insects are probably animals that dig holes the most.
There are wasps and spiders that burrow themselves too. The Australian mouse spider, for example, can dig holes up to 22 inches in depth – which is incredible for a spider.
Then, we have digger bees, which make their nest in the soil, instead of up in the trees. Having this in mind, there are insects that dig holes which are probably yet to be discovered.
Scientific name (family): Leporidae
Despite the common term ‘rabbit hole’, you’d be surprised how few people know that rabbits are burrowers. These small animals dig entire mounds and mazes under the ground.
This is a great way to protect themselves from predators, as they’ll spend the majority of their day in their warrens. They usually have multiple entry and exit points, otherwise a snake could easily kill all the rabbits in a single warren.
Scientific name (subfamily): Arvicolinae
For voles, digging a hole in the ground is purely just a means of survival. They don’t want to freeze during the winter and insulating themselves under the ground is the best way to stay warm.
They’ll gather food and insulation material in the holes before they close down for the winter, so they can stay tucked in there during the entire season. These underground systems are usually very simple and they’re not deep at all.
Scientific name (genus): Macrotis
These ingenious animals dig holes that usually spiral down towards the ground, and their tunnels are amazingly well-constructed for such a small animal.
They can be very long too, reaching lengths of up to 10 feet. Their primary purpose is to be used as a hiding spot from predators, as most predators can’t fit in those tunnels nor can they reach 10 feet in length.
Scientific name: Suricata suricatta
Out of all the animals that dig holes, meerkats might be building the most complex underground systems. These systems are usually 16 feet in diameter and they have around 15 openings.
The largest one ever was 82 by 105 feet wide and it has 90 entry and exit points. The systems usually have several levels to them. Their burrows are great at controlling the temperature and they keep the tunnels cool during the day and warm during the night.
Because of this, meerkats will spend a great amount of time in their burrows. Meerkats will, given the opportunity, invade the tunnels of another breed and build additional tunnels in succession.
Their tunnels aren’t here only to help them stay warm or cool, but they’re also a great place to hide from predators like hyenas.
7. Prairie Dogs
Scientific name (genus): Cynomys
Even though they’re actually squirrels, these dogs dig tunnels and systems that help them regulate the temperature, just like with meerkats. They also provide crucial protection, given that these animals live in areas with common environmental threats in the form of floods and fires.
Their burrows are usually 10 feet below the ground, and they even have nursery chambers for their young, as well as sleeping chambers and special winter chambers to keep them warm during the colder months.
Scientific name (family): Mustelidae
Badgers will build burrows similar to our previous two entries, with multiple entry and exit points, as well as special chambers for sleeping or for their young.
The primary purpose of the tunnels is to stay safe from predators. Interestingly, the Dachshund breed was bred specifically to hunt badgers in badger holes.
When it comes to digging power, these animals are incredibly strong as they can dig under building foundations and other manmade structures.
Scientific name (phylum): Annelida
These guys are some of the best diggers out there. They move underground by contracting their muscles and expanding the crevices by force, literally pushing the soil around them.
The myth of earthworms literally eating the soil is mistaken. These animals are very strong if you think about it, as an adult earthworm can push 10 times their own bodyweight.
Their burrowing is often overlooked by people, as it plays a very important role in the ecosystem.
Scientific name: Procyon lotor
When you think about it, raccoons are some of the most skillful and versatile animals in the animal kingdom. They’ll eat almost anything and they’ll do almost anything to get food.
They’ll run, swim, climb and dig. Even though they don’t dig holes to burrow, they’ll certainly dig a hole if they think that they can find food below the ground. This behavior isn’t odd for raccoons and they’re often found digging holes in the wild, presumably to find our previous entry – the earthworm.
Scientific name: Marmota monax
Another species of excellent burrowers, these animals use their burrows as a shelter, as sleeping chambers, hibernation and as a place to rear their young. Usually a single groundhog lives in a single burrow, but it’s possible to find more individuals in the same burrow.
Their burrows are also very useful as protection from bad weather, and they’re so developed that they literally have a bathroom – an excrement chamber was found in multiple burrows.
Usually, the burrow has a single main entrance and a spy hole. Interestingly, these animals start digging their holes when they’re very young, almost as if the parents are teaching their young how to survive in the world.
Scientific name (family): Mephitidae
Just like raccoons, skunks will dig holes in the ground to find insect larvae and earthworms. These holes can become massive and they often turn into tunnels, although they don’t do it as a means of transport.
This often leads them to accidentally digging a tunnel to people’s back yards. Skunks don’t spend much time in the holes and the tunnels that they dig, as they make their home elsewhere and there’s very little need for them to hide from predators.
Scientific name (family): Talpidae
Moles are probably the most well-known animals that dig holes, mostly because of their constant contact with humans. Arguably the most effective digger on this list, a mole can dig up to 18 feet of a tunnel in a single hour if the soil is good enough!
Not only do they dig tunnels, they spend their entire lives in them – they’re completely defenseless animals and their best bet at staying alive is hiding under the ground.
When it comes to feeding, they’re experts at hunting worms. Similar to how snake saliva has developed into venom – mole saliva is toxic to worms and earthworms, paralyzing them on touch.
Most animals that dig holes do it to stay safe from various predators, but many of them have developed these underground systems into something else entirely. Meerkats, groundhogs and badgers have very sophisticated underground systems that are reminiscent of manmade homes.
Other animals, like the raccoon or the skunk, dig into the ground to find food, while there are also animals like the mole which literally never leave the ground as it’s the only place where they can stay safe from predators on the outside.