Scientists have discovered an immense grouping of large termite mounds in north-eastern Brazil. They have found regularly spaced, still-inhabited termite mounds that are covering an area the size of Great Britain and are up to about 4,000 years old that is a space equal to the size of Great Britain. It has been reported that they cover around 230,000 square kilometres (88,800 square miles) of dry tropical forest in a relatively undisturbed region of north-eastern Brazil.
These mounds, which are easily visible on Google Earth, are not nests and are the result of the insects' slow and steady excavation of a network of interconnected underground tunnels. These mounds are around 2.5 meters tall and 9 meters wide and took thousands of years to build by an untold number of termites, all of which belong to the same species, Syntermes dirus. As per the new research, these termites are also exceptionally good at generating soil mounds. In other words, they’re piles of industrial waste. Stephen Martin, the lead author of the new study and an entomologist at the University of Salford, said that "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". However, Roy Funch further added that this is apparently the world's most extensive bioengineering effort by a single insect species and the most exciting of all the mounds are extremely old up to 4,000 years, similar to the ages of the pyramids. The mounds are found to be hidden from view in the fully deciduous, semiarid, thorny-scrub caatinga forests unique to north-eastern Brazil. The analysis of soil samples taken from 11 of the mounds, shows that they were generated between 690 and 3,820 years ago. Termite mounds in Africa have been found to be around this old as well. The researchers have further investigated whether the strangely regular spatial pattern of the mounds was driven by competition amongst termites in neighbouring mounds and found little aggression at the mound level. 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. Martin also said there’s a lot to know about these termites and their waste piles. He said that hopefully by bringing this amazing array of mounds to the attention of the scientific community, teams of people may help to know more. It is really hard to believe something as large as this went undetected for so long, but the local geography played a part.
By: Anuja Arora