When a large number of mounds of earth were discovered in the Amazon, scientists knew there was more to the piles of dirt than met the eye. Most people would disregard such a finding, but the eight-foot tall cone-shaped mounds actually have a pretty amazing history and origin. The mounds, which can be seen on Google Earth, were excavated by termites and are 4,000 years old!
In total, there are estimated to be around 200 million mounds, found to be the result of termites slowly digging a network of interconnected underground tunnels. The work took place over thousands of years and there’s enough excavated soil to fill Wembley Stadium 2,500 times over, with the Daily Mail reporting that “each mound is around 8 feet (2.5m) tall and 30 feet (9m) across.”
Further, lead researcher Stephen Martin of the University of Salford explained: “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.”
He added: “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.”
Roy Funch, of Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana in Brazil, spoke of the amazing find as well, noting: “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 mounds are located in the Caatinga rainforest but have remained mostly hidden under the forest scrub of northeastern Brazil. They were found when the land was cleared in some areas for pasture.
Scientists got to work cracking the mystery of the mounds of earth, taking soil samples from 11 mounds’ centers to date them, finding they were filled 690 to 3,820 years ago.
The termites evolved to live in airless chambers and these mounds are just discarded earth left from tunneling efforts. Termites were able to travel their tunnel system to eat the leaves that fall in the forest only once a year following the rainy season. In total, they excavated a billion cubic meters of soil for their engineering marvel.
Dr. Martin remarked: “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.”
Among the many commenters on the Daily Mail‘s coverage of this amazing discovery were those in disbelief that the termite mounds could have gone unnoticed for so long. One person remarked how it’s remarkable that there are still things to discover on Earth, noting: “Truly fascinating. Our planet is still giving up secrets.”
Another commenter put it into perspective, giving a shoutout for the termites’ efficient work efforts: “In 4,000 years the termites have moved the equivalent of 4,000 pyramids of Giza, that is, the equivalent of one pyramid per year! Much more efficient than the Egyptians, who took decades to build each pyramid!”
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