Previously Hidden Ancient Termite Mounds Found in Brazil are Visible From Space

Previously Hidden Ancient Termite Mounds Found in Brazil are Visible From Space


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Researchers reporting in Current Biology on November 19 have found that a vast array of regularly spaced, still-inhabited ancient termite mounds in northeastern Brazil are up to about 4,000 years old and cover an area the size of Great Britain.

The mounds, which are easily visible on Google Earth, are not nests. Rather, they are the result of the insects' slow and steady excavation of a network of interconnected underground tunnels. The termites' activities over thousands of years has resulted in huge quantities of soil deposited in approximately 200 million cone-shaped mounds, each about 2.5 meters tall and 9 meters across.

Conical soil mounds 2.5 meters high and more have been deposited on the surface over thousands of years. (S. Martin/R. Funch/ CC BY 4.0 )

"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 mounds are largely hidden from view in the fully deciduous, semiarid, thorny-scrub caatinga forests unique to northeastern Brazil. They'd only really come into view by "outsiders," including scientists, when some of the lands were cleared for pasture in recent decades.

This image shows mound fields. The mounds are found in dense, low, dry forest caatinga vegetation and can be seen when the land is cleared for pasture. (Roy Funch/ CC BY 4.0 )

Soil samples collected from the centers of 11 mounds and dated indicated that the mounds were filled 690 to 3,820 years ago. That makes them about as old as the world's oldest known termite mounds in Africa.

The researchers investigated whether the strangely regular spatial pattern of the mounds was driven by competition amongst termites in neighboring mounds. Their behavioral tests found little aggression at the mound level. That's compared to obvious aggression amongst termites collected at greater distances from one another.

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The over 200 million mounds are regularly distributed over 230,000 square kilometers. (Roy Funch/ CC BY 4.0 )

The findings lead the researchers to suggest that the over-dispersed spatial mound pattern isn't generated by aggressive interactions. Instead, Martin and his colleagues propose that the mound pattern arose through self-organizational processes facilitated by the increased connectivity of the tunnel network and driven by episodic leaf-fall in the dry forest.

They say that a pheromone map might allow the termites to minimize their travel time from any location in the colony to the nearest waste mound. The vast tunnel network apparently allows safe access to a sporadic food supply, similar to what's been seen in naked mole-rats, which also live in arid regions and construct very extensive burrow networks to obtain food, the researchers report.

"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," Martin says.

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The researchers say there are many questions still to pursue. For instance, no one knows how these termite colonies are physically structured because a queen chamber of the species has never been found.

This research was supported by RRF was supported by FAPESB and CNPq.

Top image: Ancient termite mounds found in Northern Brazil. Source: Youtube Screenshot

The article ‘ 4,000-year-old termite mounds found in Brazil are visible from space’ was originally published on Science Daily.

Source: Cell Press. "4,000-year-old termite mounds found in Brazil are visible from space." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 November 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181120073648.htm

Reference

Stephen J. Martin, Roy R. Funch, Paul R. Hanson, Eun-Hye Yoo. A vast 4,000-year-old spatial pattern of termite mounds . Current Biology , 2018; 28 (22): R1292 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.20 18.09.061


4,000-year-old termite mounds found in Brazil are visible from space

Researchers reporting in Current Biology on November 19 have found that a vast array of regularly spaced, still-inhabited termite mounds in northeastern Brazil--covering an area the size of Great Britain--are up to about 4,000 years old.

The mounds, which are easily visible on Google Earth, are not nests. Rather, they are the result of the insects' slow and steady excavation of a network of interconnected underground tunnels. The termites' activities over thousands of years has resulted in huge quantities of soil deposited in approximately 200 million cone-shaped mounds, each about 2.5 meters tall and 9 meters across.

"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 mounds are largely hidden from view in the fully deciduous, semiarid, thorny-scrub caatinga forests unique to northeastern Brazil. They'd only really come into view by "outsiders," including scientists, when some of the lands were cleared for pasture in recent decades.

Soil samples collected from the centers of 11 mounds and dated indicated that the mounds were filled 690 to 3,820 years ago. That makes them about as old as the world's oldest known termite mounds in Africa.

The researchers investigated whether the strangely regular spatial pattern of the mounds was driven by competition amongst termites in neighboring mounds. Their behavioral tests found little aggression at the mound level. That's compared to obvious aggression amongst termites collected at greater distances from one another.

The findings lead the researchers to suggest that the over-dispersed spatial mound pattern isn't generated by aggressive interactions. Instead, Martin and his colleagues propose that the mound pattern arose through self-organizational processes facilitated by the increased connectivity of the tunnel network and driven by episodic leaf-fall in the dry forest.

They say that a pheromone map might allow the termites to minimize their travel time from any location in the colony to the nearest waste mound. The vast tunnel network apparently allows safe access to a sporadic food supply, similar to what's been seen in naked mole-rats, which also live in arid regions and construct very extensive burrow networks to obtain food, the researchers report.

"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," Martin says.

The researchers say there are many questions still to pursue. For instance, no one knows how these termite colonies are physically structured because a queen chamber of the species has never been found.

This research was supported by RRF was supported by FAPESB and CNPq.

Current Biology, Martin et al.: "A vast 4000-year-old spatial pattern of termite mounds" https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(18)31287-9

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.


These 4,000-Year-Old Termite Mounds Can Be Seen From Space

Scientists have discovered an immense grouping of freakishly large termite mounds in northeastern Brazil. Obscured by trees, the previously undetected array occupies a space equal to the size of Great Britain.

As described in a new paper published today in Current Biology, the regularly spaced termite mounds date back nearly 4,000 years and cover an astounding 230,000 square kilometers (88,800 square miles) of dry tropical forest in a relatively undisturbed region of northeastern Brazil. The mounds, measuring around 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) tall and 9 meters (30 feet) wide, took thousands of years to build by an untold number of termites, all of which belong to the same species, Syntermes dirus.

The soldiers of this species are one of the largest termites in world, and are often used as food by the local tribes in the Amazon. These termites live underground and feed on dead leaves from the forest floor at night. Like most termites, these insects are blind, but the soldiers are very aggressive and can draw blood when they bite humans.

And as the new research reveals, these termites are also exceptionally good at generating soil mounds. Stephen Martin, the lead author of the new study and an entomologist at the University of Salford, said the mounds are not nests, but rather the result of excavations done by the termites while building a vast interconnected network of tunnels .

In other words, they’re piles of industrial waste.

“These tunnels are constructed so that very small and temporary branch tubes can be built vertically to reach the forest floor, allowing them to forage close to the temporary tube, as many predators—namely ants—exist on the forest floor,” Martin told Gizmodo.

These termites feed exclusively on the dead leaves that fall from the caatinga vegetation —a dry shrubland and thorn forest. The caatinga leaves fall only once per year, so the termites rely on these tunnels to quickly access large areas of the forest floor to collect the food.

“Just think if all the supermarkets were open for only one day in the year, those people that can move rapidly along vast distances will get most food and a better chance to survive,” explained Martin.

This excavating and tunnel-building behavior has been repeated for thousands of years in the forest, resulting in the formation of 200 million conical mounds. The researchers estimate that approximately 10 cubic kilometers (2.4 cubic miles) of soil has been processed by the termites during this time—a volume roughly equal to 4,000 G reat P yramids of Giza. It’s now considered one of the largest structures ever built by a single insect species.

Hard to believe something as large as this went undetected for so long, but the local geography played a part.

“For the people that live among them, the mounds are just part of the landscape, so they’re nothing unusual,” Martin told Gizmodo. The mounds are “in areas that are not easy for researchers to reach,” he said, and the region is “very hot, dry, and [economically] poor.” The “forest is very thorny, and the scale of the mounds so massive it is almost impossible to imagine that they are built by an animal,” but they are “just remains of the past, ” said Martin.

The mounds came to the attention of scientists after some of the lands were recently cleared for use as pasture. Using Google Earth, some researchers were able to identify these structures as being termite mounds, but the size of the superstructure was largely unknown. Martin and his colleagues visited the area to see the mounds for themselves, at which time the full extent of the array became clear.

Analysis of soil samples taken from 11 of the mounds suggests they were generated between 690 and 3,820 years ago. T ermite mounds in Africa have been found to be around this old as well .

A striking feature of the array, aside from its vast size, is how regularly spaced the mounds are . This “over-dispersed spatial mound pattern,” in the words of the researchers, was thought to be the result of intra-termite conflict and competition.

“The idea goes that if each mound is occupied by a colony and if they are aggressive towards their neighbo rs then colonies/mounds will space themselves out over the landscape in a regular pattern,” explained Martin. “However, due to the high density of mounds and small amount of leaf-fall (food) it was very unlikely that a colony lived in or under each mound in our study.”

What’s more, behavioral tests with Syntermes dirus revealed very little aggression at the mound level the researchers have no reason to believe that the spatial patterns are a function of warring mounds. Rather than being the result aggressive interactions, the mounds “arose through self-organizational processes facilitated by the increased connectivity of the tunnel network, which is driven by the episodic leaf-fall in the caatinga,” write the researchers in the study. To which they add: “This vast permanent tunnel network allows safe access to a sporadic food supply, similar to Heterocephalus naked-mole rats that also live in arid regions and construct very extensive burrow networks to obtain food.”

Martin said there’s still plenty to learn about these termites and their waste piles. For example, the actual nest where the king and queen live, called the royal chamber, has never been found. Also, the researchers aren’t sure how big each colony can get, or how the termites are able to survive for months without access to food.

“We hope that, by bringing this amazing array of mounds to the attention of the scientific community, teams of people, including ourselves, may start to answer some of these questions,” said Martin.

Senior staff reporter at Gizmodo specializing in astronomy, space exploration, SETI, archaeology, bioethics, animal intelligence, human enhancement, and risks posed by AI and other advanced tech.

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BF D it can be seen from space. I can see a basketball hoop in my driveway from space (google earth) . Usually it means you could see it with the naked eye from space - like the Py ramids.


A Metropolis of 200 Million Termite Mounds Was Hidden in Plain Sight

What amount to garbage piles — some are 4,000 years old — are spread over an area the size of Britain in a remote Brazilian forest.

Stephen J. Martin noticed large mounds, some 10 feet tall, 30 feet wide, along the side of the road as he drove through a remote part of northeast Brazil.

“After 20 minutes, we were still driving through these, and I started saying, ‘Well, what are they?’” said Dr. Martin, an entomologist at the University of Salford in England who was in Brazil for research on the worldwide decline of honeybees .

He thought they might be piles of dirt displaced from the construction of the road. Instead, his companions told him, “Oh, they’re just termite mounds.”

Dr. Martin recalled his incredulous reply: “And I went, ‘You’re really sure about that?’ And they’re like, ‘Well, I don’t know. I think so.’”

On a subsequent trip, Dr. Martin met by chance Roy R. Funch, an ecologist at Brazil’s State University of Feira de Santana who was already arranging to conduct radioactive dating to determine the age of the mounds.

“I said, ‘Look at those, there must be thousands of these mounds. And he went, ‘Nah, there’s millions.’”

Dr. Funch undercounted too.

In research published on Monday in the journal Current Biology, Dr. Martin, Dr. Funch and their colleagues report the findings from several years of investigations.

How many mounds? Some 200 million, the scientists estimate.

“They’re all over the place,” Dr. Funch said.

The cone-shape mounds are the work of Syntermes dirus, among the largest termite species at about half an inch long. The mounds, spaced on average about 60 feet apart, are spread across an area as large as Britain.

“As humans, we have never built a city that big, anywhere,” Dr. Martin said.

The scientists were also surprised when they received results of the radioactive dating of 11 mounds. The youngest was about 690 years old. The oldest was at least 3,820 years old, or close in age to the great pyramids of Giza in Egypt. “That just kind of blew me out of the water,” Dr. Funch said.

Dr. Martin said they used the minimum age suggested by the data, but the oldest mound could conceivably be more than twice as old.

The scientists also estimated that to build 200 million mounds, the termites excavated 2.4 cubic miles of dirt — a volume equal to about 4,000 great pyramids of Giza. “This the greatest known example of ecosystem engineering by a single insect species,” the scientists wrote.

Image

Another surprise was that the mounds turned out to just be mounds.

Other termites build mounds with complicated networks of tunnels that provide ventilation for underground nests.

But cutting through some of the mounds, Dr. Funch and Dr. Martin found only a single central tube leading to the top, and they never came across any nests.

These mounds were not ventilation structures, but simply piles of dirt. As the termites excavated networks of tunnels below the landscape, they needed somewhere to discard the excavated dirt. So they carried the dirt up the central tube to the top of a mound and tossed it out.

That might also explain the regular spacing between the mounds. At first, Dr. Funch and Dr. Martin thought that to be the result of competing colonies. But when they put a termite from one mound next to one from a neighboring mound, there was no conflict, indicating they were from the same family.

They concluded the pattern was simply an efficient spacing of garbage piles.

Young, active mounds grow to four to five feet tall in a couple of years, Dr. Funch said. Most of the older mounds appear inactive. The scientists do not know if that means the termites have left or if they simply have no need for additional digging in the area after constructing the needed tunnels.

While people living in the region knew of the termite mounds, few outsiders did. The expanse of the termites’ construction were hidden by scrubby forest known as caatinga.

“That's why they were undiscovered for so long,” Dr. Funch said. “You cannot see them in the native vegetation. And not many scientists pass this way.”

For most of the year, with temperatures reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter, the trees are scorched white. The landscape turns green after a short rainy season, and then the leaves fall, and the landscape grows desolate again.

“These termites live on dead leaves, and they get to feed once a year,” Dr. Martin said.

As parts of the forest were cleared, the mounds became visible, and about a decade ago, Google Earth’s satellite images became sharp enough that Dr. Funch could spot individual mounds. He drove to some of the sites to verify that the mounds were there.

Dr. Martin said he wanted to better understand the intertwining between the insects and the vegetation. When part of the forest is cut down, the mounds remain, but the termites move away as there are no longer any leaves for them to eat.

They also want to observe the termites during the burst of feeding after the blooming of the forest and study what the termites are doing the rest of the year.


Einstein vs. Bohr, Redux

Two books — one authored by Sean Carroll and published last fall and another published very recently and authored by Carlo Rovelli — perfectly illustrate how current leading physicists still cannot come to terms with the nature of quantum reality. The opposing positions still echo, albeit with many modern twists and experimental updates, the original Einstein-Bohr debate.

I summarized the ongoing dispute in my book The Island of Knowledge: Are the equations of quantum physics a computational tool that we use to make sense of the results of experiments (Bohr), or are they supposed to be a realistic representation of quantum reality (Einstein)? In other words, are the equations of quantum theory the way things really are or just a useful map?

Einstein believed that quantum theory, as it stood in the 1930s and 1940s, was an incomplete description of the world of the very small. There had to be an underlying level of reality, still unknown to us, that made sense of all its weirdness. De Broglie and, later, David Bohm, proposed an extension of the quantum theory known as hidden variable theory that tried to fill in the gap. It was a brilliant attempt to appease the urge Einstein and his followers had for an orderly natural world, predictable and reasonable. The price — and every attempt to deal with the problem of figuring out quantum theory has a price tag — was that the entire universe had to participate in determining the behavior of every single electron and all other quantum particles, implicating the existence of a strange cosmic order.

Later, in the 1960s, physicist John Bell proved a theorem that put such ideas to the test. A series of remarkable experiments starting in the 1970s and still ongoing have essentially disproved the de Broglie-Bohm hypothesis, at least if we restrict their ideas to what one would call "reasonable," that is, theories that have local interactions and causes. Omnipresence — what physicists call nonlocality — is a hard pill to swallow in physics.

Credit: Public domain

Yet, the quantum phenomenon of superposition insists on keeping things weird. Here's one way to picture quantum superposition. In a kind of psychedelic dream state, imagine that you had a magical walk-in closet filled with identical shirts, the only difference between them being their color. What's magical about this closet? Well, as you enter this closet, you split into identical copies of yourself, each wearing a shirt of a different color. There is a you wearing a blue shirt, another a red, another a white, etc., all happily coexisting. But as soon as you step out of the closet or someone or something opens the door, only one you emerges, wearing a single shirt. Inside the closet, you are in a superposition state with your other selves. But in the "real" world, the one where others see you, only one copy of you exists, wearing a single shirt. The question is whether the inside superposition of the many yous is as real as the one you that emerges outside.

The (modern version of the) Einstein team would say yes. The equations of quantum physics must be taken as the real description of what's going on, and if they predict superposition, so be it. The so-called wave function that describes this superposition is an essential part of physical reality. This point is most dramatically exposed by the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, espoused in Carroll's book. For this interpretation, reality is even weirder: the closet has many doors, each to a different universe. Once you step out, all of your copies step out together, each into a parallel universe. So, if I happen to see you wearing a blue shirt in this universe, in another, I'll see you wearing a red one. The price tag for the many-worlds interpretation is to accept the existence of an uncountable number of non-communicating parallel universes that enact all possibilities from a superstition state. In a parallel universe, there was no COVID-19 pandemic. Not too comforting.

Bohm's team would say take things as they are. If you stepped out of the closet and someone saw you wearing a shirt of a given color, then this is the one. Period. The weirdness of your many superposing selves remains hidden in the quantum closet. Rovelli defends his version of this worldview, called relational interpretation, in which events are defined by the interactions between the objects involved, be them observers or not. In this example, the color of your shirt is the property at stake, and when I see it, I am entangled with this specific shirt of yours. It could have been another color, but it wasn't. As Rovelli puts it, "Entanglement… is the manifestation of one object to another, in the course of an interaction, in which the properties of the objects become actual." The price to pay here is to give up the hope of ever truly understanding what goes on in the quantum world. What we measure is what we get and all we can say about it.


What should we believe?

Both Carroll and Rovelli are master expositors of science to the general public, with Rovelli being the more lyrical of the pair.

There is no resolution to be expected, of course. I, for one, am more inclined to Bohr's worldview and thus to Rovelli's, although the interpretation I am most sympathetic to, called QBism, is not properly explained in either book. It is much closer in spirit to Rovelli's, in that relations are essential, but it places the observer on center stage, given that information is what matters in the end. (Although, as Rovelli acknowledges, information is a loaded word.)

We create theories as maps for us human observers to make sense of reality. But in the excitement of research, we tend to forget the simple fact that theories and models are not nature but our representations of nature. Unless we nurture hopes that our theories are really how the world is (the Einstein camp) and not how we humans describe it (the Bohr camp), why should we expect much more than this?


Centuries-old termite ‘super-colony’ larger than any city discovered by researchers

S tephen J Martin noticed large mounds, some 10ft tall, 30ft wide, along the side of the road as he drove through a remote part of northeast Brazil.

“After 20 minutes, we were still driving through these, and I started saying, ‘Well, what are they?’” says Martin, an entomologist at the University of Salford who was in Brazil for research on the worldwide decline of honeybees.

He thought they might be piles of dirt displaced from the construction of the road. Instead, his companions told him, “Oh, they’re just termite mounds.”

“And I went, ‘You’re really sure about that?’” Martin recalls. “And they’re like: ‘Well, I don’t know. I think so.’”

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On a subsequent trip, Martin met by chance Roy R Funch, an ecologist at Brazil’s State University of Feira de Santana who was already arranging to conduct radioactive dating to determine the age of the mounds.

“I said, ‘Look at those. There must be thousands of these mounds,’” Martin says. “And he went, ‘Nah, there’s millions.’”

In research published earlier this month in the journal Current Biology, Martin, Funch and their colleagues reported the findings from years of investigations.

How many mounds? Some 200 million, the scientists estimate.

“They’re all over the place,” Funch says.

The cone-shape mounds are the work of Syntermes dirus, among the largest termite species at about half an inch long. The mounds, spaced on average about 60ft apart, are spread across an area as large as Britain.

“As humans, we have never built a city that big, anywhere,” Martin says.

The scientists were also surprised when they received results of the radioactive dating of 11 mounds. The youngest was about 690 years old. The oldest was at least 3,820 years old, close in age to the great pyramids of Giza in Egypt. “That just kind of blew me out of the water,” Funch says.

Martin says they used the minimum age suggested by the data, but the oldest mound could be more than twice as old.

The scientists also estimate that to build 200 million mounds, the termites had excavated 2.4 cubic miles of dirt – a volume equal to about 4,000 great pyramids of Giza. It is “the greatest known example of ecosystem engineering by a single insect species”, the scientists write.

Another surprise was that the mounds turned out to be just mounds.

Other termites build mounds with complicated networks of tunnels that provide ventilation for underground nests.

But cutting through some of the mounds, Funch and Martin found only a single central tube leading to the top, and they never came across any nests.


Termites have been building hundreds of millions of huge mounds for 4,000 years – and now scientists know why

A termite 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, 9 metres wide at the base, and spread across 230,000 square kilometres, 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.

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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.

Now sampling from the oldest mounds has revealed the area is of comparable age to some of the oldest termite colony structures known to exist in Africa, while others began construction around 600 years ago.

They have developed in response to the drought-sculpted environment where the annual leaf fall is a boom time for harvesting food, punctuated by long periods where resources are more scarce.

“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,” said Professor Stephen Martin, a social insect expert from the University of Salford and another of the authors.

“The amount of soil excavated is over 10 cubic kilometres, equivalent to 4,000 great pyramids of Giza, and represents one of the biggest structures built by a single insect species.

“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.”

The mounds are not the only entry points to the tunnel network – termites emerging at night to scavenge use dozens of smaller entrances between each waste point.

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By inspecting mounts cut in half by road building projects, Professor Martin and colleagues also showed they lack the complex honeycomb of tunnels usually associated with a termite nest.

Instead each includes a single large central tunnel – measuring 10 cm across – connecting to the underground tunnel network and a series of horizontal “galleries” containing dead leaves or larvae.

“The tunnels are never left open to the environment, ruling out their use as a ventilation system,” which left them puzzled as to how and why they had been created at such regular intervals.

One theory is that each mound was from a competing colony, but when they transferred termites to a rival neighbouring mound they were not swarmed and attacked.

This suggests that the termites intermingle underground, sharing the tunnel network out of necessity tor collect food. However, when the test was repeated with termites from mounds 50km away the attack response was immediate, suggesting limits to their cooperation.

Shared pheromone scent cues used across the tunnel network are the key way to identify local neighbours. Professor Martin and his colleagues suggest that these scent markers may direct termites to each mound point to ensure maximum efficiency and leading to the equal spacing.


Archaeologists Find Ancient Villages Laid Out Like Clock Face in Amazonia

Using a helicopter-based lidar mapping tool, an international team of scientists led by University of Exeter archaeologists has discovered a network of mound villages in the south-eastern portion of Acre State, Brazil, dating back to 1300-1700 CE.

Detail of a circular mound village called Dona Maria with ‘twin’ village. Image credit: Iriarte et al., doi: 10.5334/jcaa.45.

“Lidar provides a new opportunity to locate and document earthen sites in forested parts of Amazonia characterized by dense vegetation,” said Professor Jose Iriarte, an archaeologist and archaeobotanist at the University of Exeter.

“It can also document the smallest surficial earthen features in the recently opened pasture areas.”

Professor Iriarte and his colleagues used a lidar sensor integrated into an MD 500 helicopter to document architectural features below the forest canopy, revealing a more complex and spatially organised landscape than previously thought.

They documented over 35 ancient mound villages and dozens of roads, with many more predicted to still be hidden below the unexplored jungle.

The villages were composed of 3 to 32 mounds arranged in a circle, the diameter of which ranged from 40 m to 153 m with the area enclosed by the central plaza ranging from 0.12 to 1.8 ha.

“The circular mound villages are connected across the wider landscape through paired sunken roads with high banks that radiate from the village circle like the marks of a clock or the rays of the Sun,” the researchers explained.

“The villages have both minor roads and principal roads, which were deeper and wider with higher banks.”

“Most villages have paired cardinally orientated principal roads, two leaving in a northward direction and two leaving in a southward direction.”

“The straight roads often connect one village to another, creating a network of communities over many kilometers.”

Circular mound villages: (a) Fazenda Boa Esperança, (b) Karina, (c) Estrela do Norte I. Scale bar – 50 m. Image credit: Iriarte et al., doi: 10.5334/jcaa.45.

“Lidar has allowed us to detect these villages, and their features such as roads, which wasn’t possible before because most are not visible within the best satellite data available,” Professor Iriarte said.

“The technology helps to show diverse and complex construction history of this part of the Amazon.”

The findings show that after the abandonment of the large geometrically patterned ceremonial earthworks, around 950 CE, a new culture arose with communities living in mounded villages with highly defined concepts of social and architectural space.

“The distinctive and consistent arrangement of the circular villages suggests the ancient Acreans had very specific social models for the way they organized their communities, potentially organizing their dwellings to represent the Native American cosmos,” the scientists said.

“This is further evidence the rainforest has long-been occupied by indigenous communities, whose cultures rose, fell, transformed, and rose again, long before Europeans made an impact in the Americas.”

The team’s paper was published in the Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology.

J. Iriarte et al. 2020. Geometry by Design: Contribution of Lidar to the Understanding of Settlement Patterns of the Mound Villages in SW Amazonia. Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology 3 (1): 151-169 doi: 10.5334/jcaa.45


Previously Hidden Ancient Termite Mounds Found in Brazil are Visible From Space - History

Drywood Termites Are Almost Never Visible, But They Can Be Heard

Here in the United States, subterranean termite infestations occur far more frequently than infestations of drywood termites. However, drywood termites are still a threat to property owners, as they cause millions of dollars in property damage each year. Drywood termite infestations are also rarely, if ever, noticed by homeowners. Seeing these termites is next to impossible since they are so tiny in size. Because these insects are invisible, most homeowners only learn of an infestation after property damage has already occurred. These termites can be seen as they are swarming, but swarms do not last long. Of course there are certain signs that someone may have a drywood termite infestation, such as termite droppings or mysterious sawdust sightings. But these signs may occur in areas that are obscured or are located out of sight. Since these insect pests are so tiny, researchers have long been curious about possible termite pinpointing methods. Luckily, researchers have long known that termites make noise, especially when they are feeding. This is why scientists have recently proven that drywood termites can be successfully located and tracked with certain devices that hone in on the sound and vibrations that are produced by active drywood termites.

Detecting the presence of drywood termites can be a challenging task. But researchers know that infestations occur after seasonal swarms. Unfortunately, the colonies that are established afterwards are difficult to locate once they have colonized wood. A group of researchers managed to successfully locate drywood termites within particular timber logs when using acoustic emission (AE) technology. This technology allows users to hear the movement of termites. Termites produce the greatest amount of noise during foraging and feeding activities. This is when AE technology can be used to successfully amplify their sounds. Due to this technology, termite inspections could be conducted more quickly in the future, and scientists could learn more about the seasonal feeding and foraging habits of elusive drywood termites.

Do you think that termite inspections will become more technologically advanced in the future with devices that use AE technology?

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Watch the video: Σμηνουργός τερμίτη ξηρού ξύλου reproductives of dry wood termites