A few weeks ago, this blog discussed the massive area of land in Brazil that contains approximately 200 million termite mounds. Considering that these termite mounds are contained on an area of land that is as large as the state of Minnesota, it is hard to believe that these mounds went unnoticed until recently. As it turns out, this is just one of the many peculiar and mysterious aspects concerning the unique geographical phenomena. For example, the initial stories released in the media claimed that termites created the mounds nearly 4,000 years ago, but none of these early descriptions mentioned the species of termite responsible for the creation of the mounds. Also, the existence of the mounds were likely known to both locals and scientists long before these recent news articles became published. So how many termite species are responsible for the creation of the 200 million mounds, and are they still active in the area? Why are the mounds resistant to erosion? And what significance, if any, do the mounds have to indigenous peoples living in the area?
Surprisingly, only one single termite species is responsible for creating the 200 million mounds contained within the 88,800 square mile area. The termite architects are known as Syntermes dirus, and they are native to Brazil. These termites are not extensively described in scientific literature, but they are known for their relatively large body size and their prevalence in the semi-arid grasslands of South America. Although it may be hard to believe, but the Syntermes dirus termite is not a mound-building termite in the true sense of the term, as the mounds built by these termites do not contain an internal structure of any kind; instead, the mounds contain a vertical access tunnel leading from the termite’s subterranean habitat to the top of the mound. To put it simply, Syntermes dirus termite mounds are more like ant hills than the complicated mounds that most people are familiar with.
The simple mounds created by Syntermes species are prevalent throughout South America’s semi-arid region, and they are well known to locals, even the “recently discovered ones.” Locals refer to these particular mounds as murundus, but their origin has long been regarded as a mystery to researchers. However, recent studies have described how unique climatic conditions allow murundus to remain standing in spite of rainfall and other erosive natural forces. Several years ago the American botanist, Roy Funch, published two articles that described the mounds that were recently purported to be discovered for the first time in northeast Brazil, but they gathered little attention, partly because Funch is not an insect expert. Locals have been removing soil from these mounds for as long as anyone in the area can remember, as the hardness of the mound soil makes it ideal as a home construction material.
Do you think that you would be able to recognize the difference between a termite mound and a pile of soil?Tags: Termites