Waking up to discover your once pristine yard riddled with holes can be a frustrating experience. But, while initially annoying, it can become quite exciting to learn about the wild visitors that invade your backyard.
Our lawns often serve as sanctuaries for a diverse range of animals, both large and small. As we uncover the extent of this coexistence, we’ll explain why these creatures play important roles in maintaining a balanced ecosystem right within our property lines.
This article explores the usual suspects responsible for the mysterious holes appearing in yards overnight. By examining their distinctive digging styles, preferred food sources, and habitats, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge required to distinguish which animal lurks beneath the surface.
Why Do Animals Dig Holes in Yards?
Understanding why an animal decides to dig holes in your yard is crucial when trying to coexist with the creatures that grace your outdoor spaces.
Be it searching for a suitable habitat or foraging for food, there are many reasons these animals transform your yard into their personal excavation site.
In this section, we shed some light on the motivations driving these industrious critters to dig holes in your backyard.
Shelter and Protection
One primary reason animals dig holes is to create safe havens that offer shelter from harsh weather conditions and protection from predators.
These burrows serve as home bases where species like rabbits, groundhogs, and moles raise their young, regulate body temperature, escape the heat during hot summer months, and retreat to avoid potentially dangerous encounters with other animals.
In search of nutrient-rich meals, many animals delve underground to find grubs, insects, larvae, or plant roots. Skunks and raccoons often rummage through lawns in pursuit of grubs, while voles and pocket gophers prefer feasting on plant roots found beneath the soil.
By constantly uncovering new sources of nourishment, these animals satisfy their hunger while inadvertently creating intricate networks of tunnels and holes throughout your yard.
Nesting and Reproduction
Many animal species require secure spaces to build nests and raise offspring.
For example, birds like killdeer create hollow nests on the ground disguised by surrounding vegetation. On the other hand, digger bees excavate tiny holes where they lay their eggs and amass provisions for their future brood.
Chipmunks and ground squirrels also dig elaborate burrows that serve as nesting grounds for their young.
Some animals may establish territories by digging holes or creating scent markings with glands located near their paws or faces.
These indicators deter rivals from intruding upon an occupied territory, setting boundaries that keep others at bay while allocating resources within a specific geographical area.
14 Types of Animals That Dig Holes in Yards
Let’s explore the varying types of animals that are behind holes in your backyard. From the tiny solitary digger bee to the curious, armor-plated armadillo, your outdoor space may contain more hidden diversity than you ever imagined.
Moles are small, insect-eating mammals that are notorious for creating complex tunnel systems under the earth’s surface. You might recognize their presence because of the telltale volcano-shaped mounds or lines of raised soil they leave behind.
Moles are attracted to soil rich in organic matter and moisture — perfect conditions for their preferred meal: worms and grubs. Their heightened sense of touch allows them to capture prey with lightning-fast reflexes.
With little reason to come above ground, moles will continue digging as long as they find sustenance, so controlling their food source may help deter these insectivores from your yard.
Facts worth knowing about moles:
- Their small, cylindrical bodies measure between 4 to 9 inches long, and they are often covered in dark or gray fur.
- Equipped with large, powerful forelimbs and claws designed for digging, moles can tunnel up to 18 feet per hour.
- Moles primarily eat insects, earthworms, grubs, and other small soil-dwelling invertebrates.
- Contrary to popular belief, moles are not blind. However, their eyes are small and hidden beneath their fur. They rely heavily on their sense of touch to navigate their environment.
- Moles create two primary types of tunnels: shallow feeding tunnels where they search for prey and deeper nesting tunnels for safety and raising their young.
- Molehill formation occurs when moles push the excavated soil up to the surface as they create these intricate tunnel systems.
Ground squirrels, unlike their arboreal counterparts, prefer burrowing holes in lawns and gardens in search of nuts and seeds. These burrows often consist of an entrance hole, an exit hole, and short connecting tunnels.
The damage caused by ground squirrels’ tunneling activities can be extensive, including weakening structures, damaging plant roots, and leaving your yard exposed to erosion.
Employing preventive measures such as sealing openings around the foundation of your home will help keep these critters at bay.
Facts worth knowing about ground squirrels:
- Ground squirrels create complex tunnel systems that consist of an entrance hole, an exit hole, and short connecting tunnels for easy escape from predators.
- Ground squirrel burrows can extend up to 30 feet in length and reach depths of 4 feet or more.
- These creatures feed on various materials, such as seeds, nuts, plants, insects, and even small vertebrates.
- Regular yard maintenance can discourage ground squirrels from viewing your lawn as prime real estate.
Adept at quickly disappearing into their underground lairs, chipmunks create extensive networks of burrows under yards. Their perfectly circular entrance holes measure roughly 2 inches across, often found near solid objects such as rocks, downspouts, and tree trunks.
While chipmunks contribute to some yard damage, their activities are usually less disruptive compared to moles or ground squirrels. They feed on a variety of insects and seeds, making it crucial to remove potential food sources around your property. Keep fallen fruits and seeds cleaned up, and secure potential nesting sites.
Facts worth knowing about chipmunks:
- Chipmunks create circular entrance holes measuring roughly 2 inches across.
- A single chipmunk burrow can be quite extensive, reaching up to 30 feet in length.
- Chipmunk tunnels typically consist of multiple chambers used for nesting, sleeping, and storing food.
- Terrain with good drainage and cover is highly appealing for chipmunk burrowing activity.
Known for their malodorous defense mechanism, skunks are also experts at digging. In search of insects like grubs or beetles, they leave behind distinct cone-shaped holes. These shallow holes, often only a few inches deep and lined with claw marks, frequently appear after heavy rain when insect larvae rise closer to the surface.
To keep skunks from digging up your yard, maintain cleanliness and eliminate attractions such as pet food left outdoors or open compost piles. A well-lit area at night can also deter these nocturnal creatures who prefer darkness.
Facts worth knowing about skunks:
- Skunks use their strong claws to dig cone-shaped holes, typically 3-4 inches wide and 1-2 inches deep, in search of food.
- Skunks primarily dig for insects like grubs, larvae, and beetles, which can be a common reason for holes in your yard.
- Holes dug by skunks will often have visible claw marks lining the sides.
- Skunks are omnivores and will also consume fruits, vegetables, small vertebrates, and bird eggs when available.
- A well-lit yard can deter skunks from digging, as they strongly avoid light.
Easily adapting to suburban environments, rabbits have become a common sight in yards and gardens across many neighborhoods. These swift and agile creatures are known for their tendency to burrow and create nests, often seeking out areas near brush piles or concealed under thick vegetation.
The ideal rabbit hole measures between 3-6 inches in diameter and is strategically hidden by a thin layer of grass clippings or other natural debris to keep their entrance concealed from predators.
Creating an extensive network of underground burrows for shelter and breeding, rabbits can cause significant damage to lawns. As herbivores, they’re notorious nibblers that devour plenty of vegetation, from leafy greens and vegetables to flowers and tender shrubs.
Setting up a fence around your garden or protecting individual plants using wire cylinders is one of the most effective ways to deter these persistent animals.
Facts worth knowing about rabbits:
- A rabbit hole measures between 3-6 inches in diameter, typically hidden under bushes, thick vegetation, or near brush piles for added protection.
- Their burrows can extend up to 10 feet in length and reach depths of 3 feet or more.
- Multiple rabbits may share the same warren, with separate chambers designated for nesting, storing food, and waste disposal.
- Rabbit warrens are crucial for their survival as they provide shelter from weather extremes and protection against predators.
- Rabbits graze on diverse plant materials, such as grasses, vegetables, and flowers. Their digging habits also allow them to access delicate roots and tubers.
- To deter rabbits from destroying gardens and landscaping, homeowners can use fencing or wire cylinders around individual plants. Installing physical barriers is one of the most effective preventive methods.
Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, are excellent diggers. Unfortunately, they are also known to build their burrows in yards.
These large rodents can cause significant damage to gardens by consuming vegetables and plants. On top of that, they may undermine the integrity of structures through their burrowing activities.
The extensive tunnel systems of their creation often have multiple entrances measuring up to 12 inches in diameter. A mound of soil is usually found at the main entrance.
If you want to deter groundhogs from your yard, consider fencing your garden using mesh buried at least 18 inches deep to prevent tunneling or implementing chemical repellents.
Facts worth knowing about groundhogs:
- Groundhogs are found in North America, especially in the Eastern and Central United States and Canada.
- Groundhog burrows can be up to 5 feet deep and 30 feet long, with multiple entrances and exits.
- The entrance holes of a groundhog burrow can measure up to 12 inches in diameter, often with a mound of soil at the main entrance.
- Groundhogs have powerful limbs and sharp claws that allow them to dig efficiently.
Pocket gophers are solitary, burrow-dwelling rodents that push dirt upward when digging, creating conspicuous mounds. You can identify their presence by horseshoe-shaped mounds with a noticeable plug closing off the entrance hole.
These pests can be destructive to lawns and gardens, as they consume the roots of plants while underground. Effective methods to control their presence include trapping, repellents, or barriers installed around gardens.
Facts worth knowing about pocket gophers:
- Pocket gophers are medium-sized rodents, usually about 6-10 inches long, with short legs and stout bodies adapted for digging.
- These burrow-dwelling animals are named after their fur-lined cheek pouches (“pockets”) used for carrying food and nesting material.
- Their tunnels can extend up to 200 feet in length, typically reaching depths of 6 inches below the surface and sometimes reaching a depth of up to 3 feet.
- Unlike other burrowing animals that leave sizable mounds behind, pocket gophers create discreet crescent or horseshoe-shaped mounds, concealing the entrance hole with a soil plug.
- Teeth in pocket gophers grow continuously throughout their lives to compensate for wear caused by gnawing on dirt and roots while digging.
Rats or Mice
Both rats and mice excel in digging under structures for shelter, searching for food sources, or avoiding predators. Their burrows typically feature small holes of about 2 inches across for mice or larger openings up to 4 inches for rats.
Controlling a rodent infestation requires vigilant sanitation practices such as sealing entry points into your home, keeping garbage contained, and storing pet food properly. Trapping or using bait are other options to manage these notorious pests.
Facts worth knowing about rats and mice:
- Rats and mice are both members of the rodent family, with exceptional digging abilities.
- They can dig under structures, such as buildings and patios, potentially causing structural damage.
- Mice typically dig smaller holes of about 2 inches in diameter, while rats dig larger openings up to 4 inches across.
- Inside their burrows, rats and mice create nests using shredded materials like paper, fabric, or plant matter for warmth and comfort.
- Both species can reproduce rapidly; a female rat can give birth to approximately six litters per year, with each litter containing seven to 14 pups.
- To discourage rats and mice from digging in your yard, practice proper sanitation by sealing entry points into your home, keeping garbage contained, and storing pet food properly.
Voles, often mistaken for mice or moles, are small mammals that excel at creating shallow tunnels near the surface of your yard. These miniature excavators leave visible “runways” throughout lawns with openings as small as an inch across.
Their tunneling activities can lead to water drainage issues or disrupt nearby plants’ root systems.
Voles tend to make a mess of lawns and gardens primarily because of their voracious appetite for plant material.
During the growing season, voles consume plant stems close to the ground, leaving unsightly gaps in your carefully cultivated flower beds and vegetable patches.
Conversely, in winter months, they do not hesitate to nibble on the bark of trees and shrubs, occasionally causing lasting damage or even killing your valued plants.
To mitigate the impact of voles on your landscape, consider a mix of preventive and control measures. Employ repellents specifically designed for voles, either commercially available or natural options such as predator urine or castor oil.
Another common defense tactic is trapping; multiple varieties of traps can be strategically placed near known runways to catch these critters in action.
Facts worth knowing about voles:
- Voles have compact bodies with short legs and tails, measuring about 4 to 9 inches long, including their tails.
- North America has over 20 different species of voles, most commonly the meadow vole and prairie vole.
- Voles create shallow tunnels near the soil’s surface, often forming a network of visible “runways.”
- Voles primarily feed on grasses, seeds, insects, and plant stems.
- Voles are active year-round and breed prolifically, producing multiple litters per year.
- Natural predators of voles include owls, hawks, snakes, and foxes, which help control population numbers.
Armadillos are armored, insectivorous mammals known for their skill in excavating the ground in search of food. Their unique anatomy, with long claws and a flexible carapace, makes them efficient diggers.
These creatures favor insects and invertebrates, such as ants, termites, beetles, grubs, and earthworms, which form the bulk of their diet.
In your yard, you can identify armadillos’ presence by small, shallow holes 1-3 inches wide scattered throughout your lawn. These holes are often accompanied by overturned dirt and disturbed vegetation.
While these animals usually dig during nighttime hours to avoid the heat of the day, they might also be active during dawn and dusk periods.
You may be able to deter armadillos by applying repellents, erecting fences, or placing barriers around affected areas. For persistent cases, you might need to consult a wildlife professional.
Facts worth knowing about armadillos:
- There are 21 species of armadillos, but only the nine-banded armadillo is found in the United States.
- These animals are predominantly nocturnal, with most digging activity happening at night.
- Armadillos dig for various reasons: to find food (insects and invertebrates), to create dens for shelter, and as a defense mechanism when escaping predators.
- An armadillo’s primary diet consists of insects, grubs, small amphibians, and plant matter, all of which can be found by digging in the soil, leaf litter, or rotted logs.
- Burrows created by armadillos typically measure around 8 inches in diameter and can extend up to 15 feet long.
- Multiple burrows may exist within an armadillo’s home range, including some smaller temporary or “bolt holes” used as escape routes if they feel threatened.
Raccoons are intelligent and versatile creatures known for their curiosity. Despite their reputation for rifling through garbage cans in urban environments, these resourceful mammals can also dig up lawns in search of insect larvae, grubs, and other food sources.
Although raccoons may not be as notorious for digging as some animals on this list, their nocturnal activities can still create noticeable disruptions in your yard.
Raccoon-dug holes tend to be shallow and often appear in clusters, with damages primarily focused on small sections of the yard or garden. They spare no location when it comes to finding a meal.
From lawns to vegetable gardens and even flower beds, raccoons can cause more than just a nuisance in your outdoor spaces.
Maintain proper sanitation, limit potential food sources, and eliminate entry points to discourage raccoons from foraging in your yard.
Facts worth knowing about raccoons:
- Raccoons have strong, dexterous front paws, which aid in digging and foraging for food.
- The holes raccoons dig are usually shallow, ranging from 3 to 5 inches in diameter.
- Raccoons may also dig around trash cans or under structures in pursuit of a meal or shelter.
- These animals often wash their hands and food in water sources before consuming, leading to potential digging near ponds or streams.
- Raccoon digging may occur seasonally, peaking when food sources like insects become abundant.
- Occasionally, raccoons may dig up garden beds or planters while searching for fruits, vegetables, or roots.
- Raccoon tracks left near dug-up areas can be identified by their distinctive five-toed footprints — a round heel pad surrounded by four longer toes on the front foot and five toes on the elongated hind foot.
Digger bees, also known as mining bees or ground-nesting bees, are solitary bees that create individual nesting chambers in the soil.
Unlike social honey bees or bumble bees that build communal hives, digger bees thrive by excavating small cylindrical holes with a characteristic “volcano” of soil surrounding the entrance. Their burrows range from a half-inch to an inch wide and can appear in clusters, with each bee responsible for its own nest.
Although finding numerous holes in your yard may seem alarming, digger bee infestations rarely cause long-term damage to lawns or gardens.
In fact, they play a critical role in pollination, helping plants prosper and maintain ecological balance in the surrounding environment. Their foraging activities transfer pollen across various flowering plants, ensuring fertilization and promoting the overall health of your garden.
Moreover, these ground-nesting bees have a relatively short period of activity, typically emerging in spring and disappearing after completing their reproductive cycle.
Digger bees rarely display aggressive behavior towards humans and will only sting if threatened. Thus, it is essential to approach their nesting sites with caution and respect to avoid any unpleasant encounters.
Considering their ecological importance, it is not advisable to exterminate these valuable pollinators. Instead, focus on appreciating their contributions and coexisting peacefully with them.
Facts worth knowing about digger bees:
- Digger bees excavate small, cylindrical holes with a “volcano” of soil surrounding the entrance, typically ranging from a half-inch to an inch wide.
- Female digger bees lay eggs in individual underground cells, providing each egg with a food source (usually nectar and pollen) sealed within the cell.
- Digger bee nests can appear in clusters due to suitable soil conditions attracting multiple females; however, they do not share or cooperate in building the nests.
- Most digger bee species are non-aggressive and rarely sting humans unless directly handled or threatened.
- Digger bees are effective pollinators that help fertilize plants and flowers, contributing to a healthy ecosystem.
- The nesting period for digger bees is usually brief, lasting just a few weeks; after that, most of the activity subsides, and offspring remain dormant until the following year.
Earthworms play an essential role in aerating the soil, a process that helps improve oxygen levels, water infiltration, and the overall health of your lawn. As they move through the ground, they consume organic material, breaking it down and enhancing nutrient availability for plants.
This natural process transforms your yard into fertile ground capable of sustaining lush and robust vegetation.
The presence of earthworms may lead to the formation of small mounds of dirt or shallow depressions in the lawn. Though not actual holes, these casts add texture to the soil’s surface.
If you notice a lack of earthworm activity in your yard, there are several steps you can take to encourage their presence. Adding organic matter such as compost or aged manure to your soil will attract earthworms and provide them with the necessary nutrients.
Moreover, practicing no-till gardening techniques and reducing chemical use in your lawn helps maintain their living environment and allows them to thrive.
Facts worth knowing about earthworms:
- There are around 7,000 species of earthworms found worldwide, with varying sizes and colors.
- While digging, earthworms create channels that increase soil aeration, promote better drainage, and prevent compaction.
- Earthworms consume organic matter and microorganisms as they burrow, breaking down dead plant materials.
- Rainwater often drives earthworms to the surface, where they can be seen moving or lying on the ground.
- Earthworm activity has a minimal visual impact on lawns, only leaving small mounds of dirt behind.
- Natural predators of earthworms include birds, mammals like moles, and some insects.
Certain wasp species, like cicada killers and yellowjackets, construct subterranean nests that appear as small holes with minimal soil around the entrance.
Cicada killer wasps, despite their intimidating size and appearance, are solitary insects that generally pose little threat to humans. Their primary purpose is to prey upon cicadas, which they paralyze and use to provide sustenance for their larvae within the burrow.
While male cicada killers can be territorial and fly aggressively around their nests, they lack stingers and pose no real danger. Female cicada killers have stingers but are non-aggressive toward humans unless provoked.
Yellowjackets, on the other hand, are social wasps that build larger underground nests, often in abandoned rodent burrows or hollow spaces among tree roots. These wasps are more inclined to defend their home aggressively if they sense a threat, primarily as their colonies expand in late summer.
Yellowjacket stings can be painful and, in some cases, dangerous for individuals allergic to their venom.
Although both cicada killer and yellowjacket wasps serve essential roles in controlling pest populations and pollination, their underground nests can cause concern for homeowners.
To ensure your safety while dealing with ground-dwelling wasps, follow these key precautions:
- Always keep a safe distance from the nest.
- If you are unsure of the wasp species, avoid direct interaction with the insects or their nests to prevent accidental provocation.
- Monitor the area, particularly during late summer when yellowjacket populations may increase and become more aggressive in defending their nests.
- If you have a known allergy to wasp stings, take extra care when spending time outside in areas where ground-nesting wasps are present. Ensure you have an EpiPen or similar treatment available for emergencies.
- If intervention is necessary to remove or relocate a nest, consult a professional pest control service for assistance. Experts can safely identify the species, assess potential hazards surrounding their nesting habits, implement effective removal methods, or suggest preventive actions to discourage future nesting activity in your yard.
Facts worth knowing about wasps:
- Wasps excavate underground nests, often in sandy or loose soil.
- Nests can vary in size and complexity depending on the species; some have tunnels branching off into individual chambers.
- Female wasps typically build and maintain the nests, laying their eggs inside and providing food for larvae.
- Most ground-dwelling wasps are solitary nesters, unlike social wasps that build communal nests above ground.
- Disturbing nests may lead to multiple stings as some species are more defensive of their homes; approaching an underground nest with caution is recommended.
How To Prevent Digging Animals in Your Yard
To keep your yard free of unwanted digging animals, consider the following preventive measures:
- Regularly inspect your yard for signs of burrowing activity and address issues promptly.
- Maintain a clean environment by removing fallen fruits, seeds, and debris that could attract wildlife.
- Seal any openings around your home’s foundation, as well as gaps in fencing, to deter potential burrowers.
- Install hardware cloth or mesh buried deep around garden beds to prevent burrowing animals from gaining access.
- Use chicken wire or wire cylinders to protect individual plants or small shrubs from nibbling animals.
- Apply scent-based or taste repellents, which can be found in garden centers, around vulnerable areas.
- Encourage natural predators such as cats, owls, or birds of prey by providing nesting boxes.
- Create barriers with rocks, bricks, or landscape timbers along property boundaries to deter animals from entering your yard.
- Illuminate dark areas of your yard with outdoor lighting, as many critters prefer to forage under the cover of darkness.
- Limit access to potential nesting sites by keeping woodpiles off the ground and trimming overgrown vegetation.
- Reduce the availability of artificial food sources like pet food left outdoors or open compost piles.
- As a last resort, employ humane trapping methods when necessary.
- Always consult local wildlife guidelines.
Keeping these tips in mind and staying vigilant in your prevention efforts can reduce the likelihood of digging animals invading your yard.
Remember that certain animal visitors can help maintain a healthy ecosystem, but it’s essential to strike a balance between welcoming nature and protecting your property.
The Bottom Line
If you’re wondering what animal is digging holes in your yard, exploring the nature and pattern of the holes is the best course of action. It can provide clues about which species is responsible for the excavation. Each type of animal will have a distinct digging style, depth, and tunneling method.
Some backyard visitors provide valuable ecological benefits, such as pollinating insects. However, there may be instances where specific human-wildlife interactions necessitate the expertise of professionals.
To prevent the issue from happening in the first place, remember about regular yard maintenance. Debris removal, fencing garden beds, and securing potential food sources will help you prevent unwanted critter activity in your outdoor space.
Enamored with the world of golf Jack pursued a degree in Golf Course Management at THE Ohio State University. This career path allowed him to work on some of the highest profile golf courses in the country! Due to the pandemic, Jack began Inside The Yard as a side hustle that quickly became his main hustle. Since starting the company, Jack has relocated to a homestead in Central Arkansas where he and his wife raise cattle and two little girls.