As they went to research the huge termite mounds in Brazil, the international team of entomologists was stunned to see that these mounds cover almost 230,000 km2 of the land in northeastern Brazil. They spread on a surface similar to the one of Great Britain!
But aside from the enormous size and number of the mounds, the scientists would soon discover that some of them are almost 4,000 years old. There are almost 200 million of these cone-shaped mounds that are 2.5 m tall and have almost 9 m in diameter.
The study lead author is the researcher and Professor Stephen Martin (University of Salford, UK). He explained the existence of these incredibly old mounds:
“These mounds were formed by a single termite species — known as Syntermes dirus — that excavated a massive network of tunnels to allow them to access dead leaves to eat safely and directly from the forest floor.”
The Termites Excavated the Equivalent of 4,000 Great Pyramids of Giza!
He added that the termites had excavated so much soil that it would be “equivalent to 4,000 great pyramids of Giza” – more than 10km3!
Dr. Roy Funch, the co-author of the paper and researcher at the Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana, Brazil, added:
“This is apparently the world’s most extensive bioengineering effort by a single insect species. Perhaps most exciting of all — the mounds are extremely old — up to 4,000 years, similar to the ages of the pyramids.”
The team collected samples from 11 mounds and the analysis shows that they were filled 690 to 3,820 years ago, which makes them as old as the oldest termite mounds in the world – the ones found in Africa.
The paper published in the Current Biology shows that there is a pheromone map that termites use to minimize travel time:
“The vast tunnel network apparently allows safe access to a sporadic food supply, similar to what’s been seen in naked mole-rats, which also live in arid regions and construct very extensive burrow networks to obtain food.”
Professor Martin explained that this discovery has led to many other questions, for example how do these termite colonies are structured, considering that the “queen chamber of the species has never been found”?
Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere