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Nature’s best architects

March 16, 2019

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We have all heard the phrase “Home sweet home”. It is not only true for human beings, but this phrase applies to animals and birds too as they also have homes.

We love our homes, and we construct and maintain them with great care and pride. Similarly, animals and birds also make their homes. Some of these animals construct their homes with great skill and efforts to make it suitable for their requirements. They may build these amazing and unique homes and structures in groups or in their individual capacity. In other words, these animals are amazing architects due to the manner in which they build and construct structures for living, with specialised and sophisticated features that suit the particular needs of the animal.

Some of the structures are developed as a result of teamwork, such as ants’ communities and beehives, while in other cases individuals take on the solo task to construct a specialised structural design. These structures provide them a safe zone from predators and external factors, and also help them catch prey easily.

Following is an account of such animals having the ability to build specialised structures on the basis of which they may be termed as professional architects and builders.


Spider’s web

You must have seen a spider web, wither in a vertical or horizontal position, in a corner of a room, building or bushes, looking like a wonderful artwork. Spiders spin webs with the help of proteinaceous spider silk produced from its spinnerets.

They construct the web skilfully in a tangled form with the help of fine adhesive threads for trapping preys in them by building radials in it. They use non-sticky strands in the web for movement. The threads, despite being so fine, are so strong that they still support and hold the spiders moving here and there in its construction and can also trap a prey.


Termite mounds

Termites in grassland of Asia and vast savannah of Africa are famous for constructing incredible towering earthen structures. Their skyscrapers are so designed that engineers have adopted them to design and build modern environmentally-sound buildings.

Through teamwork, termites build huge porous structures having numerous galleries to control the temperature inside the mound. The way they build a mound with a network of tunnels is an amazing display of organised effort on part of these master builders of the animal world.

They use the mound for activities while living in the nest below the mound. There are generally food chambers to store food in the mound. It is quite astonishing that these little creatures have the ability to construct such high structures that meet their needs in the first place.


Weaver bird’s nest

Nest-making is peculiar to birds and the nests can range from simple to complex structures. But some birds, such as weaver birds which are found in the Subcontinent and Southeast Asia, are famous for weaving nests in a peculiar fashion, requiring more time and skill to develop them for use.

They, especially the males, start the work with the help of plant fibre, twigs and herb stems which assume the shape of an upside-down flask, with the entrance from below. They weave the nest with such skilfulness that it is just amazing to watch them.

Using the beak to tie the ends of grass and fibre, twisting them over and over, they construct the nest with great patience in the form of a ring first, which expands in the form of a ball with a funnel-like entry.

Similarly, the social weaver birds can build the nest so huge that it can house a colony of hundreds of birds in separate chambers that form a sophisticated structure.


Mud dauber

These small black and yellow wasps with slender body build elegant nests from mud which is very amazing for such small insects. Building nests from mud has earned them the name mud dauber.

This insect collects mud in the form of tiny balls with the help of its jaws called mandibles, from wet places, banks of ponds and streams. The mud balls are held in the front legs to bring it to the site of nest construction. The small mud balls are clumped and pressed together very artfully to form a tube for laying eggs and keeping the spiders paralysed and trapped as food for themselves and the larvae. A single tube would have several sealed chambers, each containing a larva and spider as food. It is usually the female mud dauber who constructs the nest.


Honey bees’ hive

Beehives are one of the most elaborate and complex structures that require a lot of labour to construct. The sugar content of honey is converted by the glands of the worker bees into wax. The workers chew on this wax and later use it in the construction of the honeycomb. The bees construct the hive in the form of densely packed hexagonal cells made out of beeswax.

Moreover, as the bees collect resins from plants, it is mixed with saliva and wax secreted by workers bees from wax-producing glands found in their abdomens. They chew on these substances to form propolis, which is known as ‘bee glue”. This is used to fill the gaps in their hive for strength.

These cells are used to store food in the form of pollen and honey, as well as for housing eggs, larvae and pupae. It is a very special structure with storage for honey in the upper part of the honeycomb, and with pollen storage cells, worker brood-cells and drone-brood cells beneath. The hexagonal structure of the beehive provides durability.


Vogelkop bowerbird

Found in the Indonesian peninsula, this bird builds its nest on the ground with the help of sticks, but in a very different and unique style.

The male bird collects twigs and sticks and puts them in the form of a small domed-shaped hut which is called bower, therefore, this bird is known as bowerbird. They also decorate it with some colourful and conspicuous materials and food items such as berries, flowers and insects. One of the most amazing things about the bowerbird is that the bird maintains the nest regularly, bringing fresh items and removing the old ones.


Swallows’ nests

Swallows are small sparrow-sized insectivorous birds that fly fast in an acrobatic style. They have very unique behaviour of constructing their nests in buildings, bridges and cliff-sides in cup or gourd shapes from mud pellets which they collect in their beaks.

Being very social birds, they collect mud from the banks of ponds and ditches. These birds are not seen usually on the ground except for the collection of mud with the help of their beaks. They put the mud pellets one after the other, forming a cup- or gourd-shaped structure that narrows down to a hole for entrance after nearly a thousand trips. It is built just like a mason using brick after brick to construct a wall.

They also have the ability to construct colonies which consist of up to 1000 nests joined together very artistically. In case of a colony, each nest is built next to the other in a diligent manner that does not harm the other nests. At the end, the nest clusters up side by side to form an amazing colony accommodating hundreds of swallows. They are capable of identifying their very own nest in the colony consisting of hundreds of nests. They use straws and feathers to line the interior for laying eggs.


Beaver’s dam

Beavers are very adaptive to the aquatic ecosystem where they dam water by blocking the river flow to live in the pooled water. They are famous for this specialty and are known as one of the best builders in the animal kingdom.

With the help of sharp incisors, they destroy trees and gather branches to stake them up as a barrier in a flowing river where water pools and they build their lodge to live there.

By blocking the river flow with twigs, branches, grasses and leaves interwoven in mud and stones, they make sure the dam is strong enough not to be washed away easily by the pressure of the water. Their cleverness can be judged from the fact that in slow moving water, they build straight dams while in fast moving water the dam is curved in shape.

Published in Dawn, Young World, March 16th, 2019