Diverse residents at the springhare hotel

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Springhare burrows are a hub of underground activity. In fact, new research shows that a whole range of animals use these burrows as their accommodation option of choice.

Animals such as the yellow mongoose, ant-eating chat, rufous-naped lark, striped polecat, grey climbing mouse, Namaqua rock mouse and African pygmy mouse have been recorded inside springhare burrows.

The University of Pretoria, Imperial College London and University of South Africa (UNISA) recently collaborated on a study on the utilisation of springhare burrows by other species for food, shelter, nesting, and predator avoidance at Telperion Nature Reserve near Bronkhorstspruit. They used infrared-triggered cameras to record activity at the entrance of the burrows.

Springhare. Drawing: Graham Kearney

“The tunnels are not especially deep, instead they are complex systems with several tunnels and different entrances that they are constantly excavating,” explains Maria Blanco from Imperial College London. “Springhares are not loyal to one burrow system and are strictly nocturnal.” This allows other species to utilise the burrow while rarely coming into contact with springhares.

During the study, only the ant-eating chat utilised an active springhare burrow as an overnight roost. Although they relied on burrows dug by springhares, other animals, such as the mongoose, did not inhabit active tunnels.

The yellow mongoose is known to share burrows with Cape ground squirrels and suricates. “During this study, mongoose were recorded sharing a burrow with the ant-eating chat and rufous-naped lark as they have very similar activity patterns, being diurnal,” Blanco adds. “Inter-species confrontation was very rare; the birds would avoid any contact with mongoose.”

Rufous-naped lark. Drawing: Graham Kearney

There are benefits to communal living: the birds rid burrows of parasites, mongoose keep away snakes, and the springhares keep the area free of vegetation for improved visibility.

The underground burrows are also insulating and maintain a relatively consistent temperature. Burrows are cooler during the peak heat of the day and offer warmth during cold evenings. “Our data shows that, although the temperature inside the burrows is dependent on the temperature from the outside, burrow microclimate amplitude (maximum–minimum temperature) never exceeds 5°C,” Blanco explains.

Springhares have the appearance of a rabbit, with kangaroo-like hind legs. They dwell in open plains with
soft soils.

Written by Georgina Lockwood

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