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The Amazing Architecture of Termites Skyscrapers

April 5th, 2016

Termites build enormous mounds that can reach up to 30 feet high. However, the termites themselves don’t actually live in these luxury apartment complexes. The actually build their nests, which can home thousands and even millions of individuals, underground below these tall mounds. In fact, they don’t even go into the mounds unless they need to repair them or face off against an invading ant army. So, if they’re living underneath the mounds, why would they go to all that trouble to build such tall empty mounds above their actual home?

First, you need to know that termites make their living farming fungus on structures called fungus cones inside their nests. The fungus serves to break down all of the dead plant and woody material they carry in and make it digestible for them. So, now we know that both termites and tons of fungus inhabit these underground mounds. That would mean that things get pretty crowded down there

Secondly, you need to know that both the termites and the fungus they grow produce a lot of carbon dioxide, which eventually needs to be released somewhere else. This is when postdoctoral student Hunter King and his colleague Samuel Ocko decided it was time to do a study into the circulation of oxygen and carbon dioxide in termite mounds. They found that the mound is crucial to the gas exchange in the nests. The mound on top of the termites’ nest works sort of like a giant lung, Due to the special formation of the outer tunnels of the mound, the outer tunnels heat up more during the day and create a circulation of air being pushed up the outside and down and into the middle. At night as the temperatures lower, the inside becomes hotter, and the air flow reverses. This allows tons of carbon dioxide to be flushed out of the nest and mound through the tiny holes in the outside wall of the mound. It also allows oxygen to enter in through the same holes. Thus, air circulates and no one suffocates and dies down in the underground nest.

What do you think of the sophistication of these mounds? Do you think modern architecture could learn something from it?

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