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Termite-Mound Ventilation

Termite-Mound Ventilation

 Was It Designed?

Termite-Mound Ventilation

▪ Termite mounds have been called marvels of engineering, and for good reason. These imposing structures, made of soil and saliva, can stand as high as 20 feet [6 m]. Their 18-inch [45 cm] walls are baked by the sun until they are as hard as concrete. Some mounds have literally been built overnight.

Near the center of the mound resides the queen, which may lay several thousand eggs each day. Wingless and blind “worker termites” carry off the eggs to specially constructed cells. There they care for the larvae as they hatch. Perhaps the greatest marvel of the mound, though, is its ventilation system.

Consider: A series of chambers and galleries keep the interior of the mound at a constant temperature​—despite varying conditions outside. For example, in Zimbabwe, Africa, the outside temperature can fluctuate from about 35 degrees Fahrenheit [2°C] at night to over 100 degrees [over 38°C] during the day. Yet, the temperature inside the mound remains constant at 87 degrees [31°C]. Why?

Strategically placed ventilation holes at the bottom of the mound allow fresh air to enter, while hot stale air is forced out the top. Cooler air enters the mound from an underground chamber and then circulates through the passages and cells. Termites open and close the holes to adjust the temperature as needed. A constant temperature is essential in order for the termites to farm the fungus that is their primary food.

So impressive is the design of the termite mound that a similar technology was employed by the architects of an office building in Zimbabwe. The building uses just 10 percent of the energy required by conventional buildings of the same size.

What do you think? Did the termite’s ability to regulate the temperature inside its mound come about by chance? Or is this evidence of design?

[Picture Credit Lines on page 25]

Top: Stockbyte/​Getty Images; bottom: Scott Bauer/​Agricultural Research Service, USDA