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Britain-Sized Cluster Of Termite Mounds Found In Brazil

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Researchers discovered 4,000-year-old termite mounds in a recently cleared area of a caatinga forest in Brazil. The termite mounds cover a vast area that it can be seen from space.   ( Roy Funch )

A site containing roughly 2 million termite mounds, with some reaching as high as 10-feet tall, has recently been uncovered in northern Brazil.

According to scientists, the construction site stretches across an area the size of Great Britain. Moreover, the cone-shaped piles of soil can be seen from space.

Old Termite Mounds Site Discovered In Brazil

The study published in the journal Current Biology on Monday, Nov. 19, revealed that the impressive termite mounds are the work of a single species called Syntermes dirus. Scientists who went to an excursion to the construction site said that some of the termite mounds are still inhabited by the insects.

"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," explained Stephen Martin from the University of Salford in the United Kingdom. "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."

Through carbon dating, the scientists were able to identify that the construction site had been built over thousands of years. Some mounds are roughly around 3,820 years old — about as old as the Great Pyramids of Giza.

The termite mounds have been hidden from view for years because it is located deep within semiarid and thorny vegetation of caatinga forests which are native to northeastern Brazil. The termites within the area thrived eating dead leaves on the forest floor.

However, a portion of the caatinga forest has been cleared in the recent years as the land will be used for pasture.

Termites Building Impressive Pyramids

Scientists explained that the termite mounds reached impressive sizes, not because of competition among neighbors. Behavioral tests from the site showed little signs of aggression at the mound level.

Instead, the termite mounds are the result of a highly-efficient food-distribution system. The termites built a vast network of tunnels that will allow them to cover a greater expanse of the forest floor to collect dry leaves that only fall every once a year.

Scientists compared the system to underground tunnels that naked mole rats built in similar arid regions to obtain food.

"This is apparently the world's most extensive bioengineering effort by a single insect species," added Roy Funch of Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana in Brazil.

In 2016, a different team of scientists also discovered a similar construction site in a woodland area in central Africa. They reported that the termite mounds are more than 2,200 years old.

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