An international team of researchers has discovered in the northeast of Brazil, an extensive network of termite mounds that covers an area of 230,000 square kilometers, or something like the size of Great Britain.
The structure is so large that it is visible from space.
If that didn’t arouse your curiosity, check this: the soil excavated is over 10 cubic kilometers, equivalent to 4,000 great pyramids of Giza.
This huge “country”, ordered and interconnected intricately, is believed to be about 4,000 years old and still inhabited, according to the authors in the journal Current Biology.
These subterranean tropical termites (Syntermes dirus) build tumuli that rise a few meters above the ground.
The mounds, which are easily visible in Google Earth, are not nests and are located one to three meters underground.
Rather, they are the result of the slow and constant excavation of insects from a network of interconnected underground tunnels.
The activities of termites over thousands of years have resulted in vast amounts of land deposited on approximately 200 million cone-shaped mounds, each approximately 2.5 meters high and 9 meters wide.
“These mounds were formed by a single termite species that excavated a massive network of tunnels to allow them to access dead leaves to eat safely and directly from the forest floor,” says Stephen Martin of the University of Salford in the UK.
“The amount of soil excavated is over 10 cubic kilometers, equivalent to 4,000 great pyramids of Giza, and represents one of the biggest structures built by a single insect species.”
“This is apparently the world’s most extensive bioengineering effort by a single insect species,” adds Roy Funch of Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana in Brazil. “Perhaps most exciting of all–the mounds are extremely old–up to 4,000 years, similar to the ages of the pyramids.”
The structures which have been preserved for thousands of years remain largely hidden from view in the deciduous, semiarid, thorny-scrub caatinga forests unique to northeastern Brazil.
Scientists explain that the mounds only really come into view by “outsiders,” including scientists when some of the lands were cleared for pasture in recent decades.
“It’s incredible that, in this day and age, you can find an ‘unknown’ biological wonder of this sheer size and age still existing, with the occupants still present,” experts conclude.