THE WON­DER OF TER­MITES

SCI­EN­TISTS HAVE FOUND A TERMITE SUPER-COLONY IN BRAZIL THAT DWARFS THE AN­CIENT PYRA­MIDS IN SCALE

The Gulf Today - Panorama - - SCIENCE - By Alex Mathews-king

Ater­mite super-colony which spans an area the size of Great Bri­tain has been un­der con­struc­tion since the time of the pyra­mids in an­cient Egypt, sci­en­tists have found.

Researchers study­ing the vast land­scape of

200 mil­lion cone-shaped mounds in north­east Brazil sam­pled soil from 11 lo­ca­tions and found that some be­gan con­struc­tion around 3,820 years ago.

At around 2.5 me­tres tall, 9m wide at the base, and spread across 230,000 square kms, it rep­re­sents a vast earth-mov­ing en­deav­our — but the mounds are not in­di­vid­ual termite nests.

In­stead, each one is a “waste point” where termite work­ers dump soil and other mat­ter ex­ca­vated in the pro­duc­tion of a vast sub­ter­ranean tun­nel net­work which they have used to tra­verse the land­scape in search of food for mil­len­nia.

The au­thors of a new study, pub­lished in the jour­nal Cur­rent Bi­ol­ogy, said the “bi­o­log­i­cal won­der” was akin to those of the an­cient world, but with the civil­i­sa­tion that built it still in res­i­dence.

“This is ap­par­ently the world’s most ex­ten­sive bio­engi­neer­ing ef­fort by a sin­gle in­sect species,” said Roy Funch of Univer­si­dade Es­tad­ual de Feira de San­tana in Brazil, one of the au­thors of the re­port.

“Per­haps most ex­cit­ing of all — the mounds are ex­tremely old — up to 4,000 years, sim­i­lar to the ages of the pyra­mids.”

The mounds are largely hid­den from view by caatinga, an as­sort­ment of thorny, desert-like veg­e­ta­tion unique to Brazil, and were only re­vealed to in­ter­na­tional sci­en­tists a few decades ago as the land was cleared for pas­ture.

The gi­ant termite mounds are ablout 4,000 years old.

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