Mysterious Mounds in Brazil are Visible from Space

Mysterious Mounds in Brazil are Visible from Space

The termite Syntermes Dirus is the reason behind the strange structures of the Caatinga.

Brazil is the 5th largest country of the world both, in terms of population and area. More than 208 million people live in this country which is spread over 8.5 million square kilometers. The vastness of Brazil can be determined by the fact that it accounts for 47.3% of the entire South American land. It borders with all the countries of the continent except Chile and Ecuador and has a coastline of around 7,500 kilometers along the Atlantic Ocean.

Mass immigration over a century makes it one of the most diverse nations around the globe. You might find it surprising that the official language of Brazil is Portuguese, the largest country to achieve this feat. It attracts a lot of global attention due to a number of factors, like environmental pollution, but there is a thing about this country about which only a handful of people know.

The Caatinga vegetation of northeastern Brazil homes one of the largest and strangest structures engineered on this planet. Despite their huge size, it is quite difficult to find these mysterious mounds unless you are sure about their location. According to a recent estimate of the scientists, there are approximately 200 million termite mounds, which cover an area of the size of Great Britain. Similarly, the volume of soil consumed by these structures is 10 cubic kilometers. Roy Funch, a Biologist from Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana, first observed these mounds in the 1980s. He discussed the different theories associated with these strange mounds by saying,

Some locals thought they were formed by termites or ants or some such creature. But for many, they were just there – natural, God-made formations that had always existed – for the hardscrabble dry-land region of cattle raising and small-plot farming didn’t leave much time for speculation.

The discovery of Funch didn’t get much assistance from the scientific community so he eventually released a paper about these mounds in 2015. In his research, he predicted that around 90 million mounds of dispersed soil were hidden in this part of the world. He also mentioned that the volume of these structures is comparable to 900 Pyramids of Giza. He concluded the paper by suggesting that this is arguably the greatest example of ‘Insect Biopedoturbation’ and Ecosystem Engineering at a landscape scale yet recorded.

The paper did stimulate other researchers to join Funch in his efforts to explore these mysterious structures. The number of these mounds has increased continuously, since then, and the latest research reveals that there are as much as 200 million structures. The approximate volume of these 4,000-year old mounds is around 4,000 Great Pyramids and they are made from a single species of termite known as the Syntermes Dirus. Talking about the formation of these mounds, Funch said,

For scale, the termite mounds occupy an area roughly equivalent to the Great Barrier Reef – a multiple-species bioengineering feat [whereas] the mounds we report on are built by a single species of termite.”

The scale of these structures created enough doubt in the minds of the researchers to have a detailed examination of the Syntermes Dirus. The analysis of the mounds showed that they represent the soil displaced from a massive network of subterranean tunnels. Consequently, the termites were able to access their food source (fallen leaves) quite easily. Stephen Martin, a Social Entomologist from the University of Salford who is also the Lead Author of the study, referred to that in the following words:

There is no grand plan. Like flocks of birds, so long as they stay a constant distance from their neighbor, the entire flock of thousands flows in an ordered manner. It’s just that due to the dead leaves (food) falling once a year, you need an efficient system to obtain as much food as possible before it disappears.”

You can have a glimpse of these extraordinary mounds for yourself at the following video:

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