In the middle of last year a group of experts in paleontology published an article in the journal Current Biology. Giving the news of an incredible discovery. A series of 2 million mounds located in northeastern Brazil.
Those responsible for the finding and its subsequent study were: Stephen J. Martin, Roy R. Funch, Paul R. Hanson and Eun-Hye Yoo. In their article they explain that the animal responsible for the construction of these mounds are termites typical of the ecosystem of Caatinga, an arid zone of Brazil.
These tenacious termites belong to the species Systermes dirus. They dug a wide network of tunnels covering a territory of at least 230,000 square kilometers. Dimension similar to that of a country like Great Britain.
Another detail that makes this discovery even more particular is the dimension of the mounds. Each is approximately 2.5 meters high and 9 meters wide. So they can be easily viewed from satellite cameras. And yet, they haven’t been discovered until recently.
Contemporaries with those of Africa
As to the date on which this site was made. Luminescence tests show that these mounds are almost 4000 years old. This means that they are just as old as those in Africa. With one crucial difference: the tenants of the Brazilian mounds are still among us.
Why do termites make so many mounds?
Regarding the structure and organization of the mounds. The paleontology team behind the discovery explained that these formations are not nests, as you might think.
These mounds are used by termites to quickly pick up food near exits. Without being exposed to the danger of predators.
After reviewing the interior of several of these mounds, paleontologists have observed that the internal structure of these pillars is very simple. They do not have crossed tunnels in the part that protrudes from the earth. Only one channel, with approximately 10 cms diameter that is used to exit. In contrast, a complex network of tunnels stretching over several kilometres can be found underground.
An interesting detail about these termites is that they can be oriented in a matter of seconds, to follow a specific series of tunnels. Thanks to the traces of pheromones those insects secrete.
Occasionally, the Systerme dirus can improvise holes to go out onto flat ground and quickly collect food from a newly found source. In these cases, once the termites are back in the subsoil, the makeshift paths are closed and not used again. This is a security measure that allows you to mislead predators.
From the data collected, paleontologists have been able to establish that these termites have a very simple social distribution: they are divided between workers and soldiers.
Although the inquiry has been profound, the team of investigators who have penetrated the mounds have not been able to find a queen. These and other unknowns are still waiting to be explained.