Only recently, have scientists begun to delve into how termites
construct their mounds:
“Termite mounds are amongst the greatest examples of animal architecture on our planet,” said L. Mahadevan, the Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics, of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and of Physics and lead author of the study. “What are they for? How do they work? How are they built? These are the questions that have puzzled many scientists for a long time.”
In previous research, Mahadevan and his team showed that day-to-night temperature variations drive convective flow in the mound that not only ventilates the colony but also move pheromone-like cues around, which trigger building behavior in termites.
Here, the team zoomed in further to understand how termites build the intricately connected floors in individual mounds without a plan or a planner. With experimentalists from the University of Toulouse, France led by Guy Theraulaz, the researchers mapped the interior structures of two nests using CT scans, and quantified the spacing and arrangement of floors and ramps. Adding to the complexity of the nests is the fact that not only do termites build simple ramps to connect floors but they also build spiral ramps, like the ramps in parking garages, to connect multiple floors.
Using these visualizations and incorporating the previous findings on how factors such as daily temperature shifts and pheromone flows drive building, OEB graduate student Alexander Heyde and Mahadevan constructed a mathematical framework to explain the layout of the mound.
Heyde and Mahadevan thought of each component of the mound — the air, the mud and the termites — as intermixed fluids that vary in space and time.
“We can think of the collection of hundreds of thousands of termites as a fluid that can sense its environment and act upon it,” said Heyde. “Then you have a real fluid, air, transporting pheromones through that environment, which drives new behaviors. Finally, you have mud, which is moved around by the termites, changing the way in which the pheromones flow. Our mathematical framework provided us with clear predictions for the spacing between the layers, and showed the spontaneous formation of linear and helical ramps.”Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, “Constructing termite turrets without a blueprint” at ScienceDaily
And this is all supposed to happen without any intelligence in nature?