Termite nests as biomimetic architecture

Curiously enough, we can find the most complex and developed kingdom just in termite colonies.

termite nest

Termites exist in warm southern countries in huge colonies, the number of individuals in which often reaches several millions. Their nests are extremely diverse in their appearances, sizes, and the thickness of the walls of termitaria. The highest termitarium, built by an African termite colony, Macrotermes bellicosus, is 42 feet.

It’s incredible that such tiny insects can create constructions exceeding their own height by many thousand times. If human beings could build such constructions, exceeding their height in the same proportion as a termitarium and its constructors, these buildings would be not less than 2 miles tall.

Types of termite colonies’ nests (Termitaria)

There are three types of termite nests:

  • aboreal (built on tree trunks);
  • epigeal (built on the ground and protruding high above the soil surface);
  • subterranean (below the ground, invisible).

Before comparing gigantic nests, built by termites, with constructions, made by people, we should take a closer look to these animals in a general sense. One of termite colonies’ characteristics is that their nests are built so strong that sometimes it’s even beyond a man’s power to destroy them. Termites create very different types of nests, which can meet all their needs. Some of them build termitaria that are aimed at providing them with shelter against the baking sun, while the other’s nests protect their inhabitants from rain. These nests can be inside trees, as well as on and under the ground.

Structure of termite nests

If you open a termitarium, you can notice that it has a porous design. A nest is formed by many cells, each 1 inch in width or less. These cells are connected by narrow holes, through which just a termite can pass. The material, used by termites for construction, is nothing but soil and their own saliva. With the help of this simple material, they create nests, containing labyrinths, ventilating and channel systems. Termitaria are so strong that some of them can be destroyed only be means of dynamite.

Nest structure
Termitarium: at the top – a storehouse for provisions, in the middle – a nursery, at the bottom – a cell for the termite queen.

The Compass Termite nests

There are nests of termite colonies in Australia that are particularly interesting. They got their name “compass” due to the location of their dwellings. Such nests are square, and they always have the following structure: two sides are wide, the other two are narrow; moreover, these nests are always arranged the way that the wide sides face the east and the west, the narrow ones — the north and the south. The narrow sides are absolutely identical, while the wide ones are different: the eastern side is bulging, the western one is bent in. The height of the nests can reach 15 feet, as well as its length. It’s quite often that one nest is situated near another one, as a result they represent something like an entire “termite city”.

Compass termitaria are really astonishing. It is well known that the magnetic needle in a compass also points north and south. Do these small insects indeed feel the position of cardinal directions? Of course not, this sounds absurd.

Compass termitaria

The matter has a simpler explanation: southeast winds prevail in Australia. That is the reason why the eastern side of the nest is more prominent; the wind slides along it and doesn’t do much harm to it. Besides, the from-north-to-east position of the nests is beneficial, because this way just a small part of them are exposed to the midday sunlight. That’s why the nests don’t get over-heated.

Worker termites are blind

The most amazing feature of termites, which can build such wonderful nests, is the fact that they all are blind. It is incredible! They can see neither the tunnels, they are constructing, the material, they are using, nor the “rooms”, they are making. Termites with all their features are created by God. Magnificent constructions, produced by blind termites, testify to the infinite Wisdom and Power of our world.

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