When we think of wildlife on safari, the image that pops to mind is often of a lone creature silhouetted against the endless plains, or of a herd grazing by the riverbank.
But a huge portion of the animal population make their homes against a less photogenic backdrop: they burrow beneath the earth!
Some of nature’s original underground dwellers include the:
Those strong limbs and long front claws aren’t just for swatting lions and opening locked doors; honey badgers are excellent diggers, capable of burrowing into hard ground in just 10 minutes, where they’ll then generally live alone (they’re too ornery for roommates).
They’re also smart enough to know when to let someone else do the work, though; honey badgers often take over another animal’s burrow—including termite mounds—rather than dig one themselves.
Tiny and shy, elephant shrews are rarely seen…and part of the reason might be that they’re often hiding out in their small, conical burrows or under a nest of leaves.
Natural homebodies, elephant shrews enjoy a night in with the missus (monogamous pairings are common). They also like to keep up with the Joneses; they’ll often clear and maintain pathways through the forest floor near their chosen nesting sites, so they can escape unwanted encounters as quickly as possible.
Some animals dig a burrow to get away from it all, and others are just looking for a great place to crash with their 40 closest friends.
Mongooses are the latter. Living in coed groups of about 20 animals on average, they use burrows—often abandoned termite mounds—as group crash pads. Think of it as a sort of ever-rotating house party; the groups will move to a new location every few days.
Photo: Thomson Safaris guest, Victor Nemeth MD
You’d think bat-eared foxes would get enough shade from the sun-hats they call ears, but some animals really want to avoid a tan.
That’s why, in addition to sheltering their young, bat-eared foxes use their dens as protection against the elements, including sun, heat, and wind. Maybe we should start referring to them as bat-eared delicate flowers?
If burrowing were a competitive sport, aardvarks would be the reigning champions. Not only can they dig a yard of tunnel through hard-packed earth in just five minutes, aardvarks have multiple different TYPES of burrows: burrows made while foraging, pied-a-terre burrows for short rests, and of course highly-intricate home bases.
An aardvark’s main burrow may be as long as 13 meters, with multiple entrances, many of them large enough for an adult man to enter. An interior decorator at heart, an aardvark will regularly change the layout of its home burrow, which doesn’t stop it from having real-estate envy: aardvarks periodically move out, presumably “just for a change of scenery.”
It’s no wonder animals from hares, to mongooses, to hyenas, to pythons are ready to pounce on an aardvark burrow the minute it comes on the market!