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A burrow is a hole or tunnel excavated into the ground by an animal to create a space suitable for habitation, temporary refuge, or as a byproduct of locomotion. Burrows provide a form of shelter against predation and exposure to the elements and can be found in nearly every biome and among various biological interactions. Burrows can be constructed into a wide variety of substrates and can range in complexity from a simple tube a few centimeters long to a complex network of interconnecting tunnels and chambers hundreds or thousands of meters in total length, such as a well-developed rabbit warren.

Animal kingdom of motile multicellular eukaryotic heterotrophic organisms

Animals are multicellular eukaryotic organisms that form the biological kingdom Animalia. With few exceptions, animals consume organic material, breathe oxygen, are able to move, can reproduce sexually, and grow from a hollow sphere of cells, the blastula, during embryonic development. Over 1.5 million living animal species have been described—of which around 1 million are insects—but it has been estimated there are over 7 million animal species in total. Animals range in length from 8.5 millionths of a metre to 33.6 metres (110 ft) and have complex interactions with each other and their environments, forming intricate food webs. The category includes humans, but in colloquial use the term animal often refers only to non-human animals. The study of non-human animals is known as zoology.

Animal locomotion self-propulsion by an animal

Animal locomotion, in ethology, is any of a variety or methods that animals use to move from one place to another. Some modes of locomotion are (initially) self-propelled, e.g., running, swimming, jumping, flying, hopping, soaring and gliding. There are also many animal species that depend on their environment for transportation, a type of mobility called passive locomotion, e.g., sailing, kiting (spiders), rolling or riding other animals (phoresis).

Predation A biological interaction where a predator kills and eats a prey organism

Predation is a biological interaction where one organism, the predator, kills and eats another organism, its prey. It is one of a family of common feeding behaviours that includes parasitism and micropredation and parasitoidism. It is distinct from scavenging on dead prey, though many predators also scavenge; it overlaps with herbivory, as a seed predator is both a predator and a herbivore.


Vertebrate burrows

A black-tailed prairie dog, with young, emerges from its burrow Prariehund P1010308.JPG
A black-tailed prairie dog, with young, emerges from its burrow

A wide variety of vertebrates construct or use burrows in many different types of substrate and can range widely in complexity. Mammals are perhaps most well known for burrowing, especially Insectivora like the voracious mole, and rodents like the prolific gopher, great gerbil and groundhog. The rabbit, a member of the family Lagomorpha, is a well-known burrower. There are estimates that a single groundhog burrow can occupy a full cubic metre, displacing 320 kilograms of dirt.[ citation needed ] Great gerbils live in family groups in extensive burrows, which can be seen on satellite images. Even the unoccupied burrows can remain visible in the landscape for years. The burrows are distributed regularly, although the occupied burrows appear to be clustered in space. [1] [2] Even Carnivora like the meerkat, and marsupials, are burrowers. The largest burrowing animal is probably the polar bear when it makes its maternity den in snow or earth. [3]

Insectivora clade of placental mammals

The order Insectivora is a now-abandoned biological grouping within the class of mammals. Some species have now been moved out, leaving the remaining ones in the order Eulipotyphla, within the larger clade Laurasiatheria, which makes up one of the most basic clades of placental mammals.

Mole (animal) animal

Moles are small mammals adapted to a subterranean lifestyle. They have cylindrical bodies; velvety fur; very small, inconspicuous ears and eyes; reduced hindlimbs; and short, powerful forelimbs with large paws adapted for digging. The term "mole" is especially and most properly used for "true moles" of the Talpidae family in the order Eulipotyphla found in most parts of North America, Asia, and Europe; although it may also refer to other unrelated mammals of Australia and southern Africa which have similarly evolved the mole body plan. The term is not applied to all talpids; e.g. desmans and shrew-moles differ from the common definition of "mole".

Rodent Diverse order of mammals

Rodents are mammals of the order Rodentia, which are characterized by a single pair of continuously growing incisors in each of the upper and lower jaws. About 40% of all mammal species are rodents ; they are found in vast numbers on all continents except Antarctica. They are the most diversified mammalian order and live in a variety of terrestrial habitats, including human-made environments.

Burrows by birds are usually made in soft soils; some penguins and other pelagic seabirds are noted for such burrows. The Magellanic penguin is an example, constructing burrows along coastal Patagonian regions of Chile and Argentina. [4] Other burrowing birds are puffins, kingfishers, and bee-eaters.

Magellanic penguin species of bird

The Magellanic penguin is a South American penguin, breeding in coastal Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands, with some migrating to Brazil where they are occasionally seen as far north as Rio de Janeiro. It is the most numerous of the Spheniscus penguins. Its nearest relatives are the African penguin, the Humboldt penguin, and the Galápagos penguins. The Magellanic penguin was named after Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who spotted the birds in 1520. The species is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN.

Chile republic in South America

Chile, officially the Republic of Chile, is a South American country occupying a long, narrow strip of land between the Andes to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far south. Chilean territory includes the Pacific islands of Juan Fernández, Salas y Gómez, Desventuradas, and Easter Island in Oceania. Chile also claims about 1,250,000 square kilometres (480,000 sq mi) of Antarctica, although all claims are suspended under the Antarctic Treaty.

Argentina federal republic in South America

Argentina, officially the Argentine Republic, is a country located mostly in the southern half of South America. Sharing the bulk of the Southern Cone with Chile to the west, the country is also bordered by Bolivia and Paraguay to the north, Brazil to the northeast, Uruguay and the South Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Drake Passage to the south. With a mainland area of 2,780,400 km2 (1,073,500 sq mi), Argentina is the eighth-largest country in the world, the fourth largest in the Americas, and the largest Spanish-speaking nation. The sovereign state is subdivided into twenty-three provinces and one autonomous city, Buenos Aires, which is the federal capital of the nation as decided by Congress. The provinces and the capital have their own constitutions, but exist under a federal system. Argentina claims sovereignty over part of Antarctica, the Falkland Islands, and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Bird burrows on the Volga shore near Kstovo, Russia C0136-bird-burrrows.jpg
Bird burrows on the Volga shore near Kstovo, Russia

Kangaroo mice construct burrows in fine sand.

Examples of vertebrate burrowing animals include a number of mammals, amphibians, fish (dragonet and lungfish [5] ), reptiles, and birds (including small dinosaurs [6] ).

Amphibian A class of ectothermic tetrapods, which typically breed in water

Amphibians are ectothermic, tetrapod vertebrates of the class Amphibia. Modern amphibians are all Lissamphibia. They inhabit a wide variety of habitats, with most species living within terrestrial, fossorial, arboreal or freshwater aquatic ecosystems. Thus amphibians typically start out as larvae living in water, but some species have developed behavioural adaptations to bypass this. The young generally undergo metamorphosis from larva with gills to an adult air-breathing form with lungs. Amphibians use their skin as a secondary respiratory surface and some small terrestrial salamanders and frogs lack lungs and rely entirely on their skin. They are superficially similar to lizards but, along with mammals and birds, reptiles are amniotes and do not require water bodies in which to breed. With their complex reproductive needs and permeable skins, amphibians are often ecological indicators; in recent decades there has been a dramatic decline in amphibian populations for many species around the globe.

Dragonet family of fishes

Dragonets are small, perciform, marine fish of the diverse family Callionymidae found mainly in the tropical waters of the western Indo-Pacific. They are benthic organisms, spending most of their time near the sandy bottoms, at a depth of roughly two hundred meters. There exist 139 species of the fish, in nineteen genera.

Lungfish subclass (superorder) of fishes

Lungfish are freshwater rhipidistian fish belonging to the subclass Dipnoi. Lungfish are best known for retaining characteristics primitive within the Osteichthyes, including the ability to breathe air, and structures primitive within Sarcopterygii, including the presence of lobed fins with a well-developed internal skeleton.

Invertebrate burrows

Scabies mites construct their burrows in the skin of the infested animal or human. Termites construct burrows in the soil and wood. Ants construct burrows in the soil. Some sea urchins and clams can burrow into rock.

Scabies human disease

Scabies, also known as the seven-year itch, is a contagious skin infestation by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei. The most common symptoms are severe itchiness and a pimple-like rash. Occasionally, tiny burrows may be seen in the skin. In a first-ever infection a person will usually develop symptoms in between two and six weeks. During a second infection symptoms may begin in as little as 24 hours. These symptoms can be present across most of the body or just certain areas such as the wrists, between fingers, or along the waistline. The head may be affected, but this is typically only in young children. The itch is often worse at night. Scratching may cause skin breakdown and an additional bacterial infection of the skin.

Termite insect

Termites are eusocial insects that are classified at the taxonomic rank of infraorder Isoptera, or as epifamily Termitoidae within the cockroach order Blattodea. Termites were once classified in a separate order from cockroaches, but recent phylogenetic studies indicate that they evolved from close ancestors of cockroaches during the Jurassic or Triassic. However, the first termites possibly emerged during the Permian or even the Carboniferous. About 3,106 species are currently described, with a few hundred more left to be described. Although these insects are often called "white ants", they are not ants.

Ant family of insects

Ants are eusocial insects of the family Formicidae and, along with the related wasps and bees, belong to the order Hymenoptera. Ants evolved from wasp-like ancestors in the Cretaceous period, about 140 million years ago, and diversified after the rise of flowering plants. More than 12,500 of an estimated total of 22,000 species have been classified. They are easily identified by their elbowed antennae and the distinctive node-like structure that forms their slender waists.

The burrows produced by invertebrate animals can be filled actively or passively. Dwelling burrows which remain open during the occupation by an organism are filled passively, by gravity rather than by the organism. Actively filled burrows, on the other hand, are filled with material by the burrowing organism itself. [7]

The establishment of an invertebrate burrow often involves the soaking of surrounding sediment in mucus in order to prevent collapse and to seal off water flow. [7]

Examples of burrowing invertebrates are insects, spiders, sea urchins, crustaceans, clams and worms.

Fossil burrows

Burrows are also commonly preserved in the fossil record as burrow fossils, a type of trace fossil.

Crustacean burrows in a Jurassic limestone, southern Israel ThalassinoidesIsrael.JPG
Crustacean burrows in a Jurassic limestone, southern Israel

See also

Related Research Articles

Fossil Preserved remains or traces of organisms from a past geological age

A fossil is any preserved remains, impression, or trace of any once-living thing from a past geological age. Examples include bones, shells, exoskeletons, stone imprints of animals or microbes, objects preserved in amber, hair, petrified wood, oil, coal, and DNA remnants. The totality of fossils is known as the fossil record.

Invertebrate Animals without a vertebrate column

Invertebrates are animals that neither possess nor develop a vertebral column, derived from the notochord. This includes all animals apart from the subphylum Vertebrata. Familiar examples of invertebrates include arthropods, mollusks, annelids, and cnidarians.

Echinoderm Exclusively marine phylum of animals with generally 5-pointradial symmetry

Echinoderm is the common name given to any member of the phylum Echinodermata of marine animals. The adults are recognizable by their radial symmetry, and include such well-known animals as sea stars, sea urchins, sand dollars, and sea cucumbers, as well as the sea lilies or "stone lilies". Echinoderms are found at every ocean depth, from the intertidal zone to the abyssal zone. The phylum contains about 7000 living species, making it the second-largest grouping of deuterostomes, after the chordates. Echinoderms are also the largest phylum that has no freshwater or terrestrial (land-based) representatives.

Nemertea Phylum of worms

Nemertea is a phylum of invertebrate animals also known as "ribbon worms" or "proboscis worms". Alternative names for the phylum have included Nemertini, Nemertinea and Rhynchocoela.. Most are very slim, usually only a few millimeters wide, although a few have relatively short but wide bodies. Many have patterns of yellow, orange, red and green coloration.

Sea urchin class of echinoderms

Sea urchins or urchins are typically spiny, globular animals, echinoderms in the class Echinoidea. About 950 species live on the seabed, inhabiting all oceans and depth zones from the intertidal to 5,000 metres. Their tests are round and spiny, typically from 3 to 10 cm across. Sea urchins move slowly, crawling with their tube feet, and sometimes pushing themselves with their spines. They feed primarily on algae but also eat slow-moving or sessile animals. Their predators include sea otters, starfish, wolf eels, and triggerfish.

Groundhog species of mammal

The groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, is a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. It was first scientifically described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. The groundhog is also referred to as a chuck, wood-shock, groundpig, whistlepig, whistler, thickwood badger, Canada marmot, monax, moonack, weenusk, red monk and, among French Canadians in eastern Canada, siffleux. The name "thickwood badger" was given in the Northwest to distinguish the animal from the prairie badger. Monax (Móonack) is an Algonquian name of the woodchuck, which meant "digger". Young groundhogs may be called chucklings. Other marmots, such as the yellow-bellied and hoary marmots, live in rocky and mountainous areas, but the groundhog is a lowland creature. It is found through much of the eastern United States across Canada and into Alaska

Image analysis is the extraction of meaningful information from images; mainly from digital images by means of digital image processing techniques. Image analysis tasks can be as simple as reading bar coded tags or as sophisticated as identifying a person from their face.

Trace fossil Geological record of biological activity

A trace fossil, also ichnofossil, is a geological record of biological activity. Ichnology is the study of such traces, and is the work of ichnologists. Trace fossils may consist of impressions made on or in the substrate by an organism: for example, burrows, borings (bioerosion), urolites, footprints and feeding marks, and root cavities. The term in its broadest sense also includes the remains of other organic material produced by an organism — for example coprolites or chemical markers — or sedimentological structures produced by biological means - for example, stromatolites. Trace fossils contrast with body fossils, which are the fossilized remains of parts of organisms' bodies, usually altered by later chemical activity or mineralization.

Bioturbation The reworking of soils and sediments by animals or plants

Bioturbation is defined as the reworking of soils and sediments by animals or plants. These include burrowing, ingestion and defecation of sediment grains. Bioturbating activities have a profound effect on the environment and are thought to be a primary driver of biodiversity. The formal study of bioturbation began in the 1800s by Charles Darwin experimenting in his garden. The disruption of aquatic sediments and terrestrial soils through bioturbating activities provides significant ecosystem services. These include the alteration of nutrients in aquatic sediment and overlying water, shelter to other species in the form of burrows in terrestrial and water ecosystems, and soil production on land.

Spatial ecology studies the ultimate distributional or spatial unit occupied by a species. In a particular habitat shared by several species, each of the species is usually confined to its own microhabitat or spatial niche because two species in the same general territory cannot usually occupy the same ecological niche for any significant length of time.

Great gerbil species of large gerbil

The great gerbil is a large gerbil found throughout much of Central Asia.

Spatial epidemiology is a subfield of health geography focused on the study of the spatial distribution of health outcomes.

Species distribution

Species distribution is the manner in which a biological taxon is spatially arranged. The geographic limits of a particular taxon's distribution is its range, often represented as shaded areas on a map. Patterns of distribution change depending the scale at which they are viewed, from the arrangement of individuals within a small family unit, to patterns within a population, or the distribution of the entire species as a whole (range). Species distribution is not to be confused with dispersal, which is the movement of individuals away from their region of origin or from a population center of high density.

Ichnotaxon term in zoological nomenclature

An ichnotaxon is defined by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature as "a taxon based on the fossilized work of an organism", that is, the non-human equivalent of an artifact.

Trace fossils are classified in various ways for different purposes. Traces can be classified taxonomically, ethologically, and toponomically, that is, according to their relationship to the surrounding sedimentary layers. Except in the rare cases where the original maker of a trace fossil can be identified with confidence, phylogenetic classification of trace fossils is an unreasonable proposition.


Paleodictyon is a pattern, usually interpreted to be a burrow, which appears in the geologic marine record beginning in the Precambrian/Early Cambrian and in modern ocean environments. Paleodictyon were first described by Giuseppe Meneghini in 1850.

Cambrian substrate revolution

The "Cambrian substrate revolution" or "Agronomic revolution", evidenced in trace fossils, is the diversification of animal burrowing during the early Cambrian period.


Spreite, meaning leaf-blade in German are stacked, curved, layered structures that are characteristic of certain trace fossils. They are formed by invertebrate organisms tunneling back and forth through sediment in search of food. The organism moves perpendicularly just enough at the start of each back-and-forth pass so that it avoids reworking a previously tunneled area, thereby ensuring that it only makes feeding passes through fresh, unworked sediment.

Annelid Phylum of segmented worms

The annelidas, also known as the ringed worms or segmented worms, are a large phylum, with over 22,000 extant species including ragworms, earthworms, and leeches. The species exist in and have adapted to various ecologies – some in marine environments as distinct as tidal zones and hydrothermal vents, others in fresh water, and yet others in moist terrestrial environments.

Burrow fossils are the remains of burrows - holes or tunnels excavated into the ground or seafloor - by animals to create a space suitable for habitation, temporary refuge, or as a byproduct of locomotion preserved in the rock record. Because burrow fossils represent the preserved byproducts of behavior rather than physical remains, they are considered a kind of trace fossil.


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