Although we commonly see animals on trees and land, there are many animals that live underground. These animals range from mammals and birds to reptiles. You can find them on multiple continents, from deserts to the Arctic.
Living underground has many advantages. It can provide a safe home for their nests, protect them from predators, or shelter them from extreme climates. Some animals also hunt for food underground or live underground because they prefer the dark.
Animals that live underground are known as fossorial animals. Meaning their bodies are adapted for digging burrows. Let’s learn more about these animals that live underground.
20 Animals That Live Underground
1. Prairie Dog
Scientific name: Cynomys
Prairie Dogs live in the grasslands of North America. You can identify their burrows from the mounds of earth left near the entrances. Their underground homes are complex, with 30 to 50 entrances and exits per acre. They have strong family bonds and their social structures are just as complex.
Prairie Dogs grow between 12 to 16 inches long, including their short tail. They usually weigh between 1 and 3 pounds. There are five different species, including Gunnison’s Prairie Dog, Black-Tailed Prairie Dog, and Utah Prairie Dog.
Scientific name: Marmota monax
Groundhogs are also known as woodchucks or North American ground squirrels. They live in the eastern and central U.S., Alaska, and across Canada along forest edges. These animals enjoy digging and have deep, extensive burrow systems.
On average, groundhogs grow up to 24 inches (head and body) and have tails up to 9.75 inches. They are solitary animals that only seek other groundhogs for mating.
Scientific name: Tamias
Chipmunks live in Asia and North America. There are 17 different species, and most dig extensive burrows over 11 feet long. They have cheek pouches to carry food to their burrows for storage. Their bodies are 4 to 7 inches long, with tails 3 to 5 inches.
Scientific name: Talpidae
Moles have large hands with sharp claws that allow them to burrow easily. Their digging motion resembles a swimming stroke. They can travel up to 4 mph and dig around 15 to 18 feet tunnels in an hour.
These animals grow between 2 to 9 inches long, with tails of 1 to 9 inches. They have small, beady eyes that are virtually blind. Their diets include earthworms, insects, and mice. Moles often cause problems in backyards and can be hard to get rid of. Here are some tips for getting rid of moles.
5. Burrowing Owl
Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
Burrowing owls live in the western U.S., South America, and Mexico. They are one of the smaller types of owls in North America and the only type to create nests underground. Although they can dig their burrows of up to 8 feet, they often occupy abandoned holes by other animals.
These owls grow 8 to 10 inches tall. They enjoy eating small mammals and large insects.
6. American Pika
Scientific name: Ochotona princeps
The American Pika is sometimes called whistling hares because of the unique whistle they make to communicate. They live underground for shelter and nesting. They also bury the plants and seeds they eat for the winter. Pikas are small mammals growing to around 6 to 10 inches long.
7. Fennec Fox
Scientific name: Vulpes zerda
Fennec foxes are the smallest foxes globally and live in dens underground in the Sahara desert. They use their feet as shovels for digging dens up to 3 feet deep.
They have distinctive large ears that can reach 4 to 6 inches. Their bodies are around 12 to 16 inches in length. Fennec foxes are commonly kept as pets by exotic pet owners and enthusiasts.
8. Dwarf Mongoose
Scientific name: Helogale parvula
Dwarf mongooses are found in eastern Africa and are the smallest species of mongoose. They normally create their burrows near termite mounds, their main food source.
They have a glossy, smooth coat varying in color. Dwarf mongooses grow between 7 to 10 inches, with tails 4.7 to 9 inches long.
9. Chinese Pangolin
Scientific name: Manis pentadactyla
The Chinese Pangolin creates burrows using their scaled bodies and feet to kick dirt out of the entrance. They sleep in burrows and, during the winter, make burrows near termite nests for a food source. In China, they are endangered and poached for their scales and meat for Chinese medicine and delicacies.
Pangolins are between 45 inches to 4.5 feet long and weigh between 4 to 72 pounds. They have long snouts and tongues to eat ants and termites.
10. Funnel Web Spider
Scientific name: Atracidae
Funnel Web Spiders are found in eastern Australia. There are 35 species, with some extremely venomous. They have funnel-shaped webs coming out of their burrows with trip lines on the sides alerting them to prey or predators. Their bodies are between 0.4 to 2.0 inches, with a hairless carapace covering the front.
11. Nine-Banded Armadillo
Scientific name: Dasypus novemcinctus
There are 20 species of Armadillos, and the Nine-Banded Armadillo is the only species in the United States. They’re typically found in southern states like Florida, but in recent years their range has expanded as far north as Tennessee.
These armadillos dig multiple burrows for refuge in case they feel threatened during foraging. They can have between five and ten burrows hidden. Armadillos can jump a surprising four to five feet high. And beware when you touch them because some can transmit leprosy.
Scientific name: Mustela
Weasels are mostly found in the Northern Hemisphere, including the short-tailed weasel (Mustela erminea) in the U.S. Their underground burrows have two entrances near the surface and can be up to 10 feet long.
Weasels are generally 6 to 8 inches in length with tails up to 2 inches long. They enjoy eating small mammals, including rodents.
Scientific name: Vombatidae
Wombats have powerful, big claws and feet to help them dig efficiently. In one night, they can move up to 3 feet of dirt. Their burrows have tunnels to various spaces, including a chamber for sleeping.
Although they look like tiny bears, they are marsupials. They grow around 40 inches in length, with stubby tails.
14. Red Fox
Scientific name: Vulpes vulpes
Red foxes dig dens or burrows to give birth, raise pups, store food, or find shelter from the rain. They are the largest of the true foxes, growing around 18 to 35 inches in length, with tails 11 to 21 inches. These foxes live together in pairs or small groups across the entire Northern Hemisphere.
Scientific name: Alcedinidae
Kingfishers are found globally, except for Antarctica. Instead of nests, these birds build burrows in softwood trees, dirt banks, or old termite mounds. They use their feet to build the burrows that have a nesting chamber for eggs.
There are 92 species of kingfishers. They all have dagger-like bills and excellent vision. Most have bright plumage and four toes.
16. Pocket Gopher
Scientific name: Geomys bursarius
Pocket Gophers live in woodlands and grass prairies across North and Central America. They are known for their tunnels that include various burrowing chambers with specific functions. Sometimes they even share their tunnels with other animals.
They get their name because they can turn their fur-lined pouches inside out when removing contents, similar to pockets. These animals grow between 5 to 14 inches long.
Scientific name: Dipodidae
There are over 30 known species of Jerboa living throughout deserts in Africa and Asia. Jerboas are nocturnal and live mainly in burrows. These desert-dwelling rodents only grow to around 4 inches. Their strong back legs allow them to jump up to 10 feet at once.
18. American Badger
Scientific name: Taxidea Taxus
American badgers are found in south-central Canada, northern Mexico, and the western, eastern, and central United States. There are also 11 other species of badgers in other countries.
These animals use burrows for sleeping, concealment, birthing, and protection from the elements. Burrows vary from 4 to 10 feet deep and 4 to 6 feet wide. They are very clean animals that don’t defecate or bring food in their burrows.
19. Polar Bear
Scientific name: Ursus maritimus
Polar bears are a top apex predator in the Arctic, where they live. Although they have 4 inches of fat to keep them warm, they also build underground burrows to shelter from extreme temperatures.
Polar bear cubs will usually stay with their mothers in the burrows after they are born between November and January. Emerging only during the spring when temperatures are warmer.
20. Desert Tortoise
Scientific name: Gopherus agassizii
Desert tortoises live in southwestern North American deserts, including the Mojave and Sonoran. They burrow into the sand to protect themselves from extreme desert temperatures. These tortoises grow between 9 to 15 inches and can live from 50 to 80 years.