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Wildlife Burrows

Animals use dens or burrows for many different reasons and purposes

– shelter, protection, reproduction, etc.

Some of the dens are temporary and others are more permanent – for the lifespan of the wildlife. Some wildlife create their own dens, like groundhogs, earthworms and other species, while others are opportunistic and borrow dens abandoned by others, such as burrowing owls. 

In this lesson, you will get the chance to research an animal of your choosing, and recreate the animal den or burrow you've researched by drawing a model and creating a 3D version. 

Here are a few examples of animal dens/burrows:

An ant colony is a home for ants that is usually underground and made up of several chambers connected by tunnels.

They are built by the ants themselves; more specifically, the worker ants, who dig the tunnels and rooms, and then, carrying the tiny bits of dirt in their mandibles, they deposit the dirt on the surface, sometimes forming an anthill in the process.

The way an ant colony operates revolves around the function of the chambers, or rooms.

Each room has a purpose: there are nurseries, rooms for storing food and even rooms specifically for mating.

Groundhogs have both summer and winter dens, or burrows. The winter dens are usually built in dry, wooded areas and are two to four feet deep. It is here that the groundhog hibernates. Summer dens are built near grassy areas where food is plentiful.

 

Dens typically have two entrances or more, one main entrance and one “peep hole” or escape route which offers protection from predators.

 

There are separate areas for sleeping, nursing, and potty facilities. Groundhogs line their dens with leaves and grasses and keep them clean.

Prairie dogs are social animals that live in towns of up to 1,000 acres or more. Larger towns are often divided into wards by barriers such as ridges, lines of trees, and roads. Within a ward, each family or “coterie” of prairie dogs occupies a territory of about 1 acre.

 

A coterie usually consists of an adult male, one to four adult females, and any of their offspring less than 2 years old.  Most burrow entrances lead to a tunnel that is 3 to 6 feet deep and about 15 feet long.

 

Prairie dogs construct crater- and dome-shaped mounds up to 2 feet high and 10 feet in diameter. The mounds serve as lookout stations. They also prevent water from entering the tunnels and may enhance ventilation of the tunnels.

Your turn

Choose an animal to research: 

Wildlife that Have Dens/Burrows -- rabbits, skunks, mice, woodchucks, arctic ground squirrels, chipmunks, weasels, river otters, raccoons, muskrat, mink, beavers, opossums, moles, rats, and groundhogs. Other denning animals include fox, deer, bears, wolves, spiders, snakes and desert frogs.

 

Your research should answer the following questions:

a. What is the species?

b. Where do they live – what is their habitat and range?

c. What type of den or burrow do they create (single hole, multiple rooms, etc.)?

d. How do they use the den or burrow (function)?

e. How are they adapted to create the burrow?

Activity:

1. Sketch out and create a plan on how to make a model replica of the den or burrow for their wildlife.

2. Create a scale model of the den or burrow – including different chambers and their purposes. The model should be made from recycled materials or other materials you can gather.

3. Label the model with the research you discovered about the wildlife and how the den/burrow functions.

4. Present what you've learned to a guardian, relative, or friend. 

Extension: 

Humans have learned many things from wildlife, from learning to fly and swim to replication of their wildlife homes. Underground homes have been used for centuries. Investigate why underground homes are green.

 

How do they help a home owner with cost savings and other benefits?

How do underground homes or hillside homes use similar designs compared to wildlife?

Activity: Design your own underground or hillside home – what would you create?

Thank you to The National Wildlife Federation for this resource.

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