Animals Wildlife 24 Brilliant Burrowing Animals By Starre Vartan Starre Vartan Writer Columbia University Syracuse University Starre Vartan is an environmental and science journalist. She holds an MFA degree from Columbia University and Geology and English degrees from Syracuse University. Learn about our editorial process Updated August 19, 2021 ImageGap / Getty Images Share Twitter Pinterest Email Animals Wildlife Pets Animal Rights Endangered Species There are three types of burrowing animals: primary excavators, which dig their own burrows (think prairie dogs); secondary modifiers, which live inside burrows made by other animals and might modify them to suit their needs; and simple occupants, which just occupy abandoned burrows and don't modify them. All of these animals are quite resourceful and have physical characteristics that enable them to live underground and dig to great depths. The following are some of the most interesting animals that use burrows as a home, for protection, to lay their eggs, or for other unexpected purposes. 1 of 24 Platypus mlharing / Getty Images Platypuses can only be found in freshwater and brackish estuaries in eastern Australia. They have the bill of a duck, a tail like a beaver, feet like an otter, and lay eggs — but they're still mammals. Female platypuses dig a waterside burrow in which to lay their eggs and the babies hatch about 10 days later. The offspring remain in the burrow for about four months before moving on and leading independent lives. 2 of 24 House Mouse Santiago Urquijo / Getty Images While there are 38 species of mice (Mus genus) on the planet, the most common is the house mouse. When living outdoors, they create burrows in the earth and line them with dry grass, but they will also burrow in found spots. Indoors, they replicate this behavior and attempt to construct burrows in a wide variety of places, from inside walls to pillows in an attic. 3 of 24 Pangolin GP232 / Getty Images The eight species of pangolin are found on two continents, and all of them are under threat, ranging from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered according to the IUCN Red List. Primarily nocturnal, these scaly mammals dig deep and sometimes quite large burrows to sleep and nest in. 4 of 24 Funnel Web Spider Photography in Manigau / Getty Images The funnel web spider is found in eastern Australia. It is known to build a characteristic funnel-shaped web that radiates out from its burrow. Attached to the sides of the web are long trip lines so the spider can be alerted to predators or prey without leaving home. Some types of funnel web spiders are extremely poisonous. 5 of 24 Weasel Laura Hedian / Getty Images Weasels have slender bodies, narrow heads, long necks, and short legs, which may have specifically evolved to move easily through burrow systems — particularly rodent burrows, which are their primary prey. Part of the genus Mustela, weasels are found in a wide variety of habitats, including deserts, grasslands, tundra, and forests. 6 of 24 Meerkats Nico Smit / Getty Images A meerkat is a type of mongoose that lives in southern Africa, including the countries of Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Mozambique. They live in dry areas such as open plains and grasslands, where they often make their homes in burrows built by other animals, usually ground squirrels. These extensive burrows have a dozen or more exit spots, as well as sleeping and toilet areas. 7 of 24 Rat Alan Tunicliffe Photography / Getty Images Wild rats build their own burrows and are known to constantly modify them. This is such a deeply engrained behavior that even rats that have been domesticated over the last 150 years for laboratory experiments still engage in burrowing if given the space and materials. 8 of 24 Ants thamerpic / Getty Images Almost all ant species create deep, complex underground systems with multiple burrows and various rooms dedicated to different activities. Interestingly, scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology discovered that ants' burrowing strategies vary depending on the soil type, digging deeper tunnels through clay and fine-grained soils with higher moisture content. 9 of 24 Prairie Dog Csaba Esvég / Getty Images Prairie dog communities, found in the grasslands of North America, are often identified by the particular mounds of earth left near the entrances of their burrows. Their underground colonies are quite complex and may have between 30 and 50 entrances and exits per acre. A special lookout spot near an exit hole enables them to keep watch for predators, which include the black-footed ferret, coyotes, eagles, foxes, bobcats, and others. 10 of 24 Burrowing Owl Eduardo Dal Pont Morisso / Getty Images Burrowing owls build their homes underground themselves or take over burrows built by prairie dogs, squirrels, desert tortoises, or other animals. They may also create their hidden nests in human-made structures and materials, such as PVC pipes or buckets. In addition to living quarters, these owls use their burrows to store food for their brooding period; caches have been found with dozens and even hundreds of rodent carcasses. 11 of 24 Magellanic Penguin Paul Grace Photography Somersham / Getty Images Found along coastal Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands, Magellanic penguins build burrows on the ground or under bushes to protect themselves and their chicks from the direct sun. They prefer soil composed of small particles such as silt and clay. Magellanic penguins are monogamous. During breeding season, from September to February, females will deposit two eggs in their burrows to incubate. 12 of 24 Wombat Ted Mead / Getty Images Wombats look like small bears, but they're actually marsupials. Their big, powerful feet and claws make them very efficient diggers — they can move up to 3 feet of earth in one night. Their burrows usually have only one entrance, but include a tunnel or several tunnels to various spaces, including chambers for sleeping. The common wombat generally lives alone, but southern hairy-nosed wombats live in groups in their burrows. 13 of 24 Burrowing Urchin johnandersonphoto / Getty Images Perhaps winning the award for creating a burrow out of the toughest material, the burrowing urchin actually scrapes out rock to create its living space and hide from predatory fish. It is able to grind through the limestone in the ocean thanks to its super strong teeth, which are composed of crystals of magnesium calcitate and continue to grow throughout its live. 14 of 24 Pocket Gopher Lisa Marie / Getty Images Pocket gophers are burrowing rodents found in North and Central America. This animal is well-known for the tunnels it creates, which lead to a variety of burrowing spaces with specific functions. Those tunnels often frustrate farmers and gardeners, but in non-human dominated spaces, they serve a vital purpose — aerating the soil. That's important especially in places where animal agriculture and farming machinery has compacted the soil. 15 of 24 Aardvark Martin Harvey / Getty Images Aardvarks live in the savannahs, rainforests, woodlands, and scrublands of Africa. Their burrows are an integral component of their survival strategy, as they have poor eyesight and are known as solitary, nocturnal, and very cautious animals. Before leaving the protection of their burrows, for example, they often stand at the entrance for several minutes to make sure that predators aren't waiting to attack them. And when they sleep, aardvarks block the entrance to their burrow and curl into a tight ball. They also change burrows frequently, digging new ones with their strong front legs. 16 of 24 Kingfishers JMrocek / Getty Images There are 92 species of kingfishers, which can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Unlike other types of birds, instead of nests, kingfishers build burrows in dirt banks, old termite mounds, or softwood trees. Male and female kingfishers take turns digging out the soil with their feet to build their burrow, which includes a nesting chamber for their eggs. 17 of 24 Desert Tortoise Shakeel Sha / Getty Images Desert tortoises use burrows mostly as protection from extreme desert temperatures. They actually build separate burrows for the different seasons. Their summer holes are shallower (between 3 feet and 10 feet deep), dug at a 20-degree-angle, and are used when regular shade does not provide enough relief from daytime heat. Winter burrows are horizontal tunnels dug into banks, can be up to 30 feet long, and provide stable temperatures year-round. 18 of 24 Atlantic Puffin Peter Llewellyn / Getty Images Like many of the animals on this list, puffins nest in burrows to keep predators away from their offspring, which is especially important for these birds since they only raise one young — called a puffling — each year. These nests, built by the puffins with their feet and beaks, are between 2 feet and 3 feet deep and can be found on the steep sea cliffs of the North Atlantic, where 60% of Atlantic puffins live. 19 of 24 European Rabbit Sonja Jordan / Getty Images This rabbit is native to the Iberian peninsula in Spain, Portugal, and southwestern France, though it has been introduced to the rest of Europe and Australia, where it's an invasive species. The structure of their extensive burrows, called warrens, can vary depending on soil availability. According to a study on the types of burrows of the European wild rabbit, the animal builds larger tunnels in sandy soil and shorter, narrower tunnels in silty soil. 20 of 24 Armadillo DGWildlife / Getty Images There are 20 very different species of armadillos, ranging from the 130-pound giant armadillo to the tiny pink fairy armadillo, which weighs only around 4 ounces. All of them do share some important characteristics: they have tough, layered scales and they all burrow. The nine-banded armadillo, the only species found in the United States, usually digs multiple burrows in its home range for easy refuge in case it feels threatened while foraging. Each armadillo may have between five and 10 burrows hidden under tangles of roots and briars. 21 of 24 Meadow Vole Mark Bridger / Getty Images Voles spend most of their lives in their burrow systems, which are elaborate networks of nests, tunnels, surface runways, and openings hidden by layers of grass and ground cover. They have a very wide range of predators — which explains their elusive behavior. They are hunted by owls, hawks, red foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and snakes, among other predators. 22 of 24 Ghost Shrimp stevelenzphoto / Getty Images Ghost shrimp are tiny, but their digging abilities are quite impressive. Measuring an average of 4 inches, they manage to create burrows up to 4 feet deep along the water's edge and seafloor. They tunnel along not just for protection from predators, but also to find food. As they dig, they are able to capture food found in the sediment or floating through the water that flows into the tunnel. 23 of 24 Red Fox SteveOehlenschlager / Getty Images Female red foxes dig burrows or dens to give birth and raise their pups safely, but they may also use them as shelter when it rains and to store food. Sometimes they make a den in a log or cave, but most are dug out by the fox or may be "remodeled" burrows previously used by other animals. 24 of 24 Polar Bear Andre Anita / Getty Images Polar bear are mostly known for building dens in snowdrifts and slopes, but they may also build underground burrows to protect themselves and their young from extreme temperatures. Polar bear cubs are born between November and January, but they will wait until warmer temperatures arrive in the spring to emerge from their refuge. Heat generated by their mom's body will keep the temperature inside the burrow or den 45 F warmer than outside. View Article Sources Mukherjee, Aditi, et al. "Burrow Characteristics and Its Importance in Occupancy of Burrow Dwelling Vertebrates in Semiarid Area of Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan, India." Journal of Arid Environments, vol. 141, 2017, pp. 7-15, doi:10.1016/j.jaridenv.2017.02.003 "Mus: Old World Mice." Animal Diversity Web. "Pangolin." International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. "Funnel-Web Spiders." The Australian Museum. Chappell, Mark, et al. "The Energy Cost of Voluntary Running in the Weasel Mustela nivalis." Journal of Experimental Biology, vol. 216, no. 4, 2013, pp. 578-586, doi:10.1242/jeb.079186 Makowska, I. Joanna and Weary, Daniel. "The Importance of Burrowing, Climbing and Standing Upright for Laboratory Rats." Royal Society Open Science, vol. 3, no. 6, 2016, pp. 160136, doi:10.1098/rsos.160136 Monaenkova, Daria, et al. "Behavioral and Mechanical Determinants of Collective Subsurface Nest Excavation." Journal of Experimental Biology, vol. 218, no. 9, 2015, pp. 1295-1305, doi:10.1242/jeb.113795 "Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs." National Park Service. "Burrowing Owl." The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. "Spheniscus magellanicus: Magellanic Pengiun." Animal Diversity Web. "Wombat." San Diego Zoo. Ma, Yurong, et al. "The Grinding Tip of the Sea Urchin Tooth Exhibits Exquisite Control over Calcite Crystal Orientation and Mg Distribution." Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, vol. 106, no. 15, 2009, pp. 6048-6053, doi:10.1073/pnas.0810300106 "Pocket Gophers." The National Wildlife Federation. "Aardvark." African Wildlife Foundation. "Kingfisher." San Diego Zoo. "Desert Tortoises and People Throughout Time." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Puffin FAQs." Audubon Society, Project Puffin. Serrano, S. and Hidalgo de Trucios, S.J. "Burrow Types of the European Wild Rabbit in Southwestern Spain." Ethology, Ecology & Evolution, vol. 23, no. 1, 2011, pp. 81-90, doi:10.1080/03949370.2010.534318 "Natural History Series: Nine-Branded Armadillo." University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. "Ghost Shrimp." National Park Service. "Vulpes vulpes: Red Fox." Animal Diversity Web. "The Basics of Polar Bear Denning." Polar Bear International.