June 5, 2023

All living on the planet depend on the Earth, but for some it has a very special meaning. These are animals that live literally in its depths. For example, we have collected a dozen Red Book species that live underground, hide supplies there and burrow deep themselves, hibernating for the winter.

  1. Amur steppe polecat

The exact number is unknown, but it is considered to be on the verge of extinction. We live in the Far East, on the plains near such rivers as the Amur and Zeya. He likes to settle in meadows overgrown with weeds, steppe grasses and shrubs. Its diet includes mainly rodents – ground squirrels, pikas, hamsters. But it can, on occasion, feast on snakes, frogs, lizards, and even large locusts. If the ferret has eaten, and the food remains, he digs it in reserve, but then, as a rule, completely forgets about the stash.

The beast is not inclined to construction work, this “raider” would rather occupy the hole of one of its victims. In summer, he prefers to lead a sedentary lifestyle, but in winter he has to expand his hunting territories, not staying in one place for more than a couple of weeks, otherwise he simply won’t get enough food.

It is better not to frighten the animal – in case of danger, it shoots a stream of liquid with a pungent odor.

  1. European mink

This animal was badly damaged by hunters who mined it because of its valuable fur. Plus, it is confidently being forced out of its usual habitats by a close relative – a larger American mink. The animal has now become so rare that it is protected by law in all countries.

Mink is very demanding on the place of residence – she needs to settle near the water, because she feeds on water rats, fish, crayfish, amphibians, etc. At the same time, the predator is also quite lazy – she prefers to find a natural crack in the ground, someone’s old hole or completely arrange housing under a reed blockage. True, if there is nowhere to go, she will dig a “house” for herself, but not deep and not too many rooms – there is a bedroom with a toilet – and that’s enough. The main thing is that there are two exits, and one must certainly lead to the water.

The animal swims perfectly, in which the membranes between the fingers help it. Even a strong current is not a hindrance to the mink. In case of danger, it dashingly dives and appears above the water, having swum 10–15 m, as a rule, in just a few seconds. And the predator can also walk along the bottom, clinging to its surface with its claws. To scare off the enemy, the mink also uses a pungent smell, no worse than the polecat. She also marks her territory with her scent.

  1. Muskrat

It is sometimes called a musky rat – it really looks like a rodent that is notorious, only larger, usually weighing a kilogram and a half. He prefers to live near some body of water: a river, canal, lake or freshwater swamp. It digs a hole on a high bank so that the entrance is under water, and the “living quarters” itself is above its level. Sometimes the muskrat builds two-story nesting chambers in case the water level changes. This animal is generally a skilled architect – it builds itself huts from reeds a meter and a half high.

The muskrat feeds on plants that grow near the water – reeds, reeds, sedges, etc. Occasionally it can diversify the table with shellfish and fish. These animals live in families, marking the territory with a musky smell, they do not tolerate strangers in their possessions.

The muskrat is listed in the Red Book, but, fortunately, this species is not threatened with extinction. These animals are prolific and easily adapt to different environmental conditions. But they have a very high mortality in the first year of life – according to statistics, up to 87% of the population dies from predators. Another 11% do not live past two years. Therefore, their numbers are constantly fluctuating.

  1. Russian desman

This relic species is endangered, and in fact in prehistoric times the muskrat lived throughout Europe. Now settles in the basins of the Dnieper, Volga, Don and Ural. It leads a semi-aquatic lifestyle, and the fur of the animal retains air so well that the desman beetle, a parasite that cannot breathe underwater, feels quite at ease in it. The fact is that the villi of the fur of the muskrat thicken at the ends, and are narrowed at the root, which is why a waterproof air chamber is formed next to the skin of the animal, in which the “settlers” thrive. In the old days, muskrat skins were valued more than foxes.

The animal digs a hole on land, but not too long, only about 3 m, it makes an exit under water. The animal diligently collects gastropods, leeches, worms living in reservoirs at the bottom, and then gets out to eat on land. He needs to eat about the same amount per day as he weighs, so there is no time to relax. Plus, you have to keep your eyes open – the muskrat itself is a delicacy for many predators, from stoats, otters and foxes to kites and owls. Even under water, she is in danger – catfish and pikes are also not averse to having a bite to eat with a tasty animal.

  1. Caucasian otter

The species is listed in the Red Book of the Krasnodar Territory and Kuban as rapidly declining. Due to the felling of trees, mountain reservoirs were damaged, where the otter likes to settle, and due to enterprises that dump waste into the water, many fish died, reducing the food supply of the predator. Well, poaching has taken its toll.

Otters dig their burrows under snags; on occasion, they can also use the abandoned “estates” of muskrats. The animal knows a lot about entertainment – even after eating, it continues to chase fish to play with it, and in winter it likes to ride down a hill, using its own belly as an “ice”.

  1. marmot marmot

These animals have plenty of underground residences – they dig many temporary holes with one entrance, in order to hide from danger if necessary, or even spend the night. Plus, every self-respecting groundhog builds a permanent dwelling with many side passages and otnorki, the total length of which can reach 60 m. He arranges a summer bedroom shallow, lining it with grass and rags, and digs a winter one at such a depth where the ground does not freeze. The main hole can be identified by a meter-long hill, which is obtained from the soil thrown to the surface. Nearby, as a rule, is an observation deck, from where the groundhog watches what is happening. Families of two to 25 animals fit into hibernation – it’s warmer together.

In general, the number of the species does not cause concern, but in some areas, such as Lipetsk, it is present in the Red Book. In addition, the animal is listed by the IUCN as “Least Concern”.

  1. Black-capped marmot

A close relative of the bobak is less fortunate, it is under the threat of extinction. In the first half of the 20th century, these animals were game animals, and they were hunted without restrictions: meat was used for food, fat for medicines.

Although the holes of these marmots are not deep, they create whole labyrinths underground with a total length of passages up to 100 m, or even more. They also know how to perform facing work, covering the walls of the passages with a mixture of earth and grass dust. When creating burrows, they rake up some soil and pile stones around – so the “roof” becomes higher, and when it gets warmer, the snow over the marmot family’s housing melts faster.

  1. Dahurian hedgehog

It would seem that even small children know about hedgehogs. However, scientists acknowledge that the Daurian hedgehog is one of the least studied species. He lives in Transbaikalia and the Western Amur region, now he is on the verge of extinction. It is not so difficult to distinguish it from more familiar counterparts – the needles do not grow up, but backwards, so it is not so prickly.

Females like to settle in abandoned badger burrows or natural depressions in the ground and under the roots. Males are real machos, they prefer to spend the night on bare ground. They choose shelters for themselves only during the cold season in order to hibernate.

  1. Asian chipmunk

Chipmunk is included in the Red Book as a rare species located on the border of the range. This beast is not afraid of heights and can settle up to the upper border of forests. Chipmunks live in well-arranged burrows, almost invisible to outsiders. They sleep in the nesting room, stocks are stored in the pantry, and they usually also make several burrows for latrines. Chipmunks begin to collect provisions from August, dragging nuts, acorns, grains, dried mushrooms and berries into caches, sometimes mined a kilometer from the hole. Alas, often carefully hidden provisions do not go to the owner at all. Chipmunk pantries are plundered by small thieves like squirrels and sables, as well as larger robbers – wild boars and bears.

Striped rodents have a rather complex system of sound signals, warning each other of danger, readiness for a romantic relationship, or that it is about to rain. At the same time, the animals are the most perfect loners, each building a personal hole for himself, and if someone tries to sit next to him, he immediately gets into a fight.

  1. giant mole rat

The endemic of the Caspian semi-deserts is listed in the Red Book as a vulnerable species. The rodent is indeed completely blind, he simply has no eyes. It is not surprising that he does not at all consider it necessary to get out to the surface, equipping himself underground with downright royal mansions of several floors. Food stocks are usually stored higher, at a depth of 30–40 cm, and nesting chambers can lie even 3 m from the surface. There will also be nurseries for cubs, not far from which the beast will certainly arrange a latrine.

Since the animal spends its entire life underground, it simply does not need exits. They are made only during construction work to throw out excess soil. Curiously, the mole rat digs moves not with its paws, but with its teeth, throwing out unnecessary earth with the help of a head that is somewhat reminiscent of a shovel. In just an hour, he is able to dig a hole 2.5 m deep.

These vegetarians feed on root crops, to which they break through separate tunnels. To survive the winter, they store more than 10 kg of “vegetables”. However, the giant mole rat needs more than other rodents – he himself weighs about a kilogram.

Olga Ladygina

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