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For 4,000 Years, Termites Have Been Building Something Incredible in Brazil Their huge mounds cover an area the size of Britain, and are visible from space.

4000 年来,白蚁在巴西制造了一些不可思议的东西:白蚁制造的巨大土丘覆盖了英国大小的区域,太空可见

NOV 19, 2018

In the east of Brazil, mysterious cones of earth rise from the dry, hard-baked soil. Each of these mounds is about 30 feet wide at its base, and stands six to 13 feet tall. From the ground, with about 60 feet of overgrown land separating each mound from its neighbors, it’s hard to tell how many there are. But their true extent becomes dramatically clear from space.


The local termites create extensive subterranean labyrinths of tunnels, and they eject whatever soil they don’t need on the surface. The process is slow and gradual, but the termites have been at it for millennia. They’re more like a geological force than an organism. Just as rivers or glaciers sculpt the landscape around them, so too have these tiny insects sculpted some 90,000 square miles of Brazil into a junkyard that’s visible from space.

它们更像是一种地质力量而不是一种有机体,就像河流或冰川塑造了周围的景观一样,这些微小的昆虫也把巴西的9万平方英里(约合9万平方英里) 的土地雕刻成了一个从太空可以看到的垃圾场。

These mounds are known as murundus, and rather confusingly, they’re different from other mounds called campos de murundus. The latter are found in the wet, savanna-like areas of southern and central Brazil instead of the dry northeast, and it’s not clear whether they’re built by termites at all. Campos de murundus have also been well studied for decades; by contrast, the northeastern murundus, though well known by locals, have been largely neglected by scientists.


The honeycomb distribution of the murundus is just one example of mysterious repeating patterns in nature. The famous fairy circles of Namibia and Australia—discs of bare red soil that pockmark miles of low grassland—are another. For years, scientists have argued about the cause of these circles. Some say they’re the work of termites. Others think they’re caused by the grasses themselves, battling for water and nutrients. Still others have argued that it’s a bit of both.
The murundus, Funch says, are likely to be much simpler in origin. “There’s no doubt,” he says, that they’re termite-made. “I’ve seen termites building the mounds with my own eyes.”

纳米比亚和澳大利亚著名的仙女圈—— 一个光秃秃的红土圆盘——是另一个例子,它们在几英里长的低矮草原上留下了繁多的麻点。

By examining murundus that had been sliced open by road-construction teams and probing them using optic fibers, Funch and his colleague Stephen Martin realized that each one begins when a termite colony builds a vertical tube rising straight up from its underground nest. The tube isn’t a chimney—it’s mostly closed at the top except for small side-holes around the rim. As the termite workers excavate their nest, they chuck soil out of these holes, eventually creating a cone. “There’s no engineering involved,” says Funch. “They’re just throwing the stuff out.” The cones aren’t even used as portals to the surface world: When termites forage at night on the forest floor, they emerge through temporary tubes between the murundus that they then seal during the day.

通过检查道路建设队伍切开的“Murundus”,并使用光学纤维探测它们,芬奇和他的同事斯蒂芬 · 马丁意识到,每个土墩都始于一个白蚁群体建立一个垂直的管道,直接从它的地下巢穴出发。
" 这里面没有涉及到工程学, "芬奇说。 "他们只是把这些东西扔掉。"

Termites don’t live for 3,820 years, so do murundus lie unused for most of their life span after their creators die? Or, perhaps, do many generations of termites exploit the same mounds?

白蚁不会活3820年,那么在它们的创造者死后,“Murundus”会不会在它们的大部分寿命里都没有被使用过呢? 或者,也许,许多代白蚁利用同样的土堆?

“Beats the shit out of me, man,” says Funch. “We have no idea.”