Insects that Burrow in the Ground: Uncovering Earth’s Hidden Dwellers

Insects are fascinating creatures that can be found in various habitats, including the soil beneath our feet. Some of these soil-dwelling insects have adapted to burrow through the earth, making it their home and playground.

One example of a burrowing insect is the burrower bug, which mainly stays in the soil unless it’s migrating to a new location. These little bugs, about ¼” in size, resemble small stink bugs and thrive in hot, dry weather conditions. They are known to feed on plants such as peanuts, occasionally causing damage to crops.

Wood-boring insects are another example of burrowers found in trees and shrubs. These insects, usually moth and beetle larvae, tunnel and feed under the bark of living wood. Although the damage is mostly cosmetic and doesn’t usually affect the structure of the wood, these insects can still weaken trees and cause their decline over time.

Types of Burrowing Insects

Ants

There are numerous ant species that burrow in soil, with varying sizes and depth of the tunnels. Some examples include:

  • Fire ants
  • Carpenter ants
  • Leafcutter ants

Their tunnels have different functions, such as:

  • Nesting chambers
  • Food storage
  • Access to other colonies

Bees and Wasps

Several species of bees and wasps construct underground nests. Some examples are:

  • Yellowjackets
  • Digger bees
  • Ground-nesting wasps

They excavate soil to create chambers for egg-laying and larval development.

Cicada and Cicada Killer Wasps

These insects are known for their relationship with soil:

  • Cicadas: spend years underground as nymphs, tunneling and feeding on tree roots.
  • Cicada killers: solitary wasps that burrow in soil to create nest cells for their larvae.

Termites and Springtails

Two notable examples of soil-dwelling insects are:

  • Termites: social insects that build extensive underground tunnel systems.
  • Springtails: tiny, wingless insects that burrow in soil for moisture and organic matter.

Burrowing Bugs and Earwigs

These insects exhibit burrowing behavior:

  • Burrowing bugs: soil-dwelling insects that feed on plant roots and seeds.
  • Earwigs: nocturnal insects that hide in soil crevices during daytime.
Insect Group Habitat Diet
Ants Soil Varies by species
Bees and Wasps Soil, sometimes Nectar, insects
Cicadas and Cicada Killers Soil Plant roots, cicadas
Termites and Springtails Soil Wood, mold, and debris
Burrowing Bugs, Earwigs Soil, crevices Plants, insects

Habitat and Environment

Desert Insects

Desert insects are fascinating creatures that thrive in harsh conditions. Some examples include:

Both have adapted to the dry, hot climate and utilize burrows to maintain moisture and stay cool.

Winter Burrowing Insects

While numerous insects burrow in the ground, few continue this behavior in winter. However, some insects do endure the cold:

  • Snow Fleas which stay active in snow-covered soil
  • Grubs sheltering in lawns beneath the frost line, waiting for spring

These insects showcase remarkable adaptability and resilience, making them unique in their environments.

Insects in Trees and Vegetation

Insects can also be found burrowing in trees and vegetation, taking advantage of plant resources. Examples include:

These insects have developed specialized abilities to exploit trees and foliage as habitats.

Comparison Table

Insect Habitat Adaptation
Australian Desert Ant Desert (Australia) Navigation skills
Jerusalem Cricket Desert (United States) Burrowing in the ground
Snow Flea Winter (Snow) Active in snow-covered soil
Grub Lawns (Winter) Shelter beneath frost line
Bark Beetle Trees Tunnel in tree bark
Emerald Ash Borer Trees (United States) Threatens trees with burrowing

Role in Pollination

Solitary Bees

Solitary bees, like the sweat bee, play a key role in pollination. These bees:

  • Do not live in hives
  • Collect nectar and pollen for their offspring
  • Often nest in the ground

Examples of solitary bees include mining bees and digger bees.

Ground Bees

Ground bees are a type of solitary bee. They have important characteristics:

  • Burrow nests in soil
  • Often mistaken for bumble bees
  • Efficient pollinators

One example is the mining bee, which helps pollinate various plants.

Mason and Cellophane Bees

Mason and cellophane bees are other types of solitary bees. They differ in nesting habits and materials used. A comparison:

Mason Bee Cellophane Bee
Builds nests with mud and other materials Uses a cellophane-like substance for nests
Pollinates a variety of plants Known as plasterer bees
Often used in agriculture for pollination Less common in commercial efforts

Both types contribute to successful pollination and fruit production.

Interactions with Humans and Agriculture

Impact on Crops and Flowers

Burrowing insects impact both crops and flowers. Some insects cause damage, while others are beneficial. For example, common ground bees, which are often seen in small colonies, help with pollination. Pollination is a critical process that allows plants to reproduce, thereby maintaining healthy ecosystems.

In contrast, burrowing bugs like lice may feed on plant roots, causing significant damage to crops and flowers. Preventing such damage often requires farmers to use targeted chemical treatments and management strategies.

Managing Flying Insects in Lawns

Managing flying insects that burrow, like the plasterer bees, mason bees, or cellophane bees, can be challenging. These insects are attracted to lawns because of abundant prey and nesting opportunities. The following tips can help manage flying insects in lawns:

  • Regularly mow and maintain your lawn to reduce nesting spots
  • Use screened covers on trash cans
  • Keep outdoor seating and play areas clean
  • Install insect containment or repellent measures such as bug zappers or citronella candles

On the other hand, remember that many flying insects contribute positively to pollination and natural pest control.

Recognizing Burrowing Bug Damage

Being able to recognize burrowing bug damage is important in order to address the issue accordingly. Here are some common signs of damage:

  • Holes or entrance points in the soil
  • Yellowing or wilting of plants
  • Droppings and debris around entry points
  • Excessively wet or poorly drained soil

To make a better understanding, here is a comparison table of burrowing insect examples:

Insect Impact Characteristics
Common Ground Bee Pollination Live in colonies, non-aggressive
Plasterer Bee Nesting Construct brood cells, solitary
Lice Crop and flower root damage Small, wingless, parasitic
Sweat Bee Pollination, have stingers Attracted to human sweat, usually harmless

Each burrowing insect has its unique features and impact on humans and agriculture. By learning to identify and manage them effectively, humans and insects can coexist, ensuring a balance between negative impacts and beneficial interactions.

Insect Anatomy and Behavior

The Science of Insect Burrows

Insect burrows are underground tunnels created by some insects for various purposes, like feeding and breeding. For example, soil insects like wireworms, false wireworms, and white grubs burrow through the soil, feeding on the roots of plants such as grass. Their burrowing methods involve:

  • Packing soil along the sides of their tunnels.
  • Employing a peristaltic movement, like caterpillars with their hydrostatic skeleton.

Insect Relationships and Colonies

Insects that burrow often form colonies, as seen in ants and bees. For example, ant colonies consist of various adult forms like male ants, queen ants, and female ants (workers).

Some insects, like bees, also have crucial relationships with flowers, assisting in the pollination process.

Defensive Mechanisms

Insects have developed diverse defensive mechanisms, such as:

  • Excreting harmful substances to deter predators.
  • Using their burrows as hiding places to protect themselves from threats.

Ticks, for example, hide in grass and wait for potential hosts on which to feed, posing a risk to both humans and animals. On the other hand, some burrowing insects like bees can benefit ecosystems by pollinating plants, producing honey, and helping green spaces thrive.

Comparison Table

Insect Burrow Habitat Benefits Risks
Wireworms Soil None Damaging plant roots
Bees Soil, hives Pollination Stinging when provoked
Ticks Grass, soil None Transmitting diseases

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Possibly Mouse Feces

 

How To Get Rid Of Pantry Beetlehome insect mystery
Location: ny
December 30, 2010 11:56 pm
hey guys,
i constantly started seeing more and more of this insect and i really need help identifying these insects. they are growing exponentially in my kitchen and i need to find a way to get rid of this. Please help me out.
Thanks
Jack
Signature: jack

Possibly Mouse Droppings

Dear Jack,
Your photo does not have the necessary detail to be sure, but we do not believe this phenomenon is insect related.  We believe you have mouse droppings.  Please compare what you have to this image on the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology website.  You can also visit the Cornell University Integrated Pest Management website.  You can start by cleaning out the kitchen thoroughly and discarding any food that rodents would have access to.  If you disagree with us and still believe you have insects, please send a better photo for identification.

Possibly Mouse Droppings

Follow Up Request
January 28, 2011 11:41 pm
hey there
can i delete my post that i posted here more than a month ago. One of my friend recently googled my username f#@$%&*k (censored) and this site came up and all my friends were reading about the mouse droppings(my post) and laughing at me. Is there a way to delete my post so that it dosent come up on google anymore. Please help.Thanks
Signature: jack

Dear Jack,
We do not remove content from our archives.  We do not publish email addresses unless a reader requests that for some reason.  There are so many Jacks in New York that there was no way your friends could connect this posting to you as an individual until you yourself posted a comment that included your user name.  The google search is not leading your acquaintances to our posting, but to the comment you sent as a follow up to the posting.  We can delete the comment, but we will not remove the posting.  We don’t know how much longer the cached information on your user name will lead your friends to our site, but once information has been uploaded to the WWW, it runs the risk of going viral.  It is a sad comment on the state of interpersonal relationships that your so called friends need to troll the internet with the intention of digging up dirt (or in this case mouse feces) on you so that they can publicly ridicule you.  As an aside, when we did the google search we observed that our website comes up seventh, after male enhancements and online hookups.  We fully understand how your slovenly housekeeping might reduce your internet heat factor since it might be a dealbreaker.  We believe it is best in the interest of running a family oriented website that we not only remove your comment, but also that we censor your user name from this request so that our younger readers will not inadvertently be led to the adult content associated with your internet profile.

Letter 2 – Gopher making tunnels in garden

 

Subject:  Gopher digging in my herb garden
Geographic location of the bug:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
Date: 09/02/2021
Time: 02:19 PM PDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Dear Bugman,
I don’t need an identification and this Gopher is not really a Bug but I see you have a rodent section, so I thought I would send it and tell you how I deal with the gopher.  At first I was upset that the gopher was tunneling in my garden, but I realized it was aerating the soil and providing me with nice piles of dirt on the surface that I could use elsewhere in the garden.  I am always moving dirt around, and so is the gopher.  I made peace with the little critter despite the fact that it ate the roots off two of my marijuana plants.
How you want your letter signed:  Constant Gardener

Pocket Gopher

Dear Constant Gardener,
Thanks for sending in your adorable image of a Pocket Gopher.  We applaud your stoicism toward this fascinating creature.  Most folks would try to rid the garden of a native creature.

Hi again Bugman,
While I am not thrilled to have lost two plants, I believe they were in the gopher’s way and not targeted food.  Next year I might try building cages from chicken wire to keep the gophers away from the roots.

Letter 3 – Rodent Skull mistaken for Exoskeleton in England

 

Subject:  Exoskeleton of a bug with fangs?
Geographic location of the bug:  Yorkshire, England
August 25, 2017
I found what appears to be an exoskeleton of a bug with fangs under a box in my house. It measures approximately 1.9cm in length and 1cm in width. Any help on what it may be will be much appreciated.
Thanks
How you want your letter signed:  You’re doing a great job!

Rodent Skull

This is an endoskeleton, not an exoskeleton, and it is not from a bug.  We believe this is a rodent skull.

Rodent Skull

 

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

9 thoughts on “Insects that Burrow in the Ground: Uncovering Earth’s Hidden Dwellers”

  1. I found these exact droppings in my apartment and instantly thought “mice!” But I found no telltale holes and never heard any critter activity. After an hour of scourging my apartment I came upon a black wooly bear caterpillar, which eventually turns into a great leopard moth. I held said creature under observation… feeding it what I had around the house that the interwebz suggested… dandelion, broccoli leaves, and spinach. Sure enough the critter produced the same leavings that I had previously mistaken for mouse droppings. What a relief!

    Reply
    • Congratulations on the resolution of your mystery, but we still believe the submitted photo is likely mouse droppings.

      Reply
  2. I just started getting these on my kitchen counter! Seriously, I too thought it was mouse poop at first, but as I began cleaning the area with 409, they began to move!! And when I swished them into the sink to wash them down, they tried climbing up the side of the sink!

    I sprayed heavily with ant killer (the only thing I had on hand) and they died. I cleaned them up and when I came home the next morning, THERE WERE MORE!

    They seem to like my kitchen sink area-the counter around it. It’s also directly under a window-not sure if that matters?

    Is the consensus that it’s likely a moth? Or are there any other thoughts? And how on Earth do I get rid of them? Please help!

    Reply
    • My husband and I were gone visiting family for almost a month and came home very late a few nights ago to what we thought was mouse poop all up the wood stairs (every step!) in our small condo and several in the hallway and in his bathroom tub and floor along with some in the downstairs bathroom. Nothing in the kitchen or around food. A couple on the floor downstairs. Seemed to be mostly between the two baby gates at the bottom and top of the stairs. We set mouse traps but no luck so far. Never had mice poop upstairs before, only kitchen. We cleaned everything up w disinfecting/bleach spray (to be safe bc hanta virus was originally identified in U.S. about 45 min from us) but we keep finding a few more “poops” here and there.

      Tonight I noticed more in his tub and on the bathroom floor but they were slowly moving. I know some of these black rice looking things downstairs are likely mice poop bc our condo had some furry visitors during winter and we live in Colorado.

      What are these insects? Some kind of weevil?

      Reply
  3. I just started getting these on my kitchen counter! Seriously, I too thought it was mouse poop at first, but as I began cleaning the area with 409, they began to move!! And when I swished them into the sink to wash them down, they tried climbing up the side of the sink!

    I sprayed heavily with ant killer (the only thing I had on hand) and they died. I cleaned them up and when I came home the next morning, THERE WERE MORE!

    They seem to like my kitchen sink area-the counter around it. It’s also directly under a window-not sure if that matters?

    Is the consensus that it’s likely a moth? Or are there any other thoughts? And how on Earth do I get rid of them? Please help!

    Reply
    • My husband and I were gone visiting family for almost a month and came home very late a few nights ago to what we thought was mouse poop all up the wood stairs (every step!) in our small condo and several in the hallway and in his bathroom tub and floor along with some in the downstairs bathroom. Nothing in the kitchen or around food. A couple on the floor downstairs. Seemed to be mostly between the two baby gates at the bottom and top of the stairs. We set mouse traps but no luck so far. Never had mice poop upstairs before, only kitchen. We cleaned everything up w disinfecting/bleach spray (to be safe bc hanta virus was originally identified in U.S. about 45 min from us) but we keep finding a few more “poops” here and there.

      Tonight I noticed more in his tub and on the bathroom floor but they were slowly moving. I know some of these black rice looking things downstairs are likely mice poop bc our condo had some furry visitors during winter and we live in Colorado.

      What are these insects? Some kind of weevil?

      Reply
  4. FIY, Baby gophers can easily get thru 1″ chicken wire, aka poultry netting. I lost $50 worth of seed garlic one winter thinking I had a great idea!Then I got 50 gal food grade barrels and cut them in 1/2 the long way and put tiny slits in the bottom for drainage, set them on top of the ground and filled them with fabulous dirt. About 1/2 way thru winter I realized the gophers were tunneling thru the snow up into the barrels………. I resorted to digging the snow away from the barrels and it has been the only way i’ve been able to keep them out!

    Reply

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