In nature, most animal’s shelters are far from spectacular: a bird will stack a few twigs into a nest, or a rodent will dig a cozy burrow for itself. At the same time, some species build homes so large they could make a billionaire blush.
When scientists in South America came across a habitat that dwarfed any structure built by humans, they could hardly believe it. However, their colleagues across the world claimed they’d discovered some even more impressive dwellings…
More and more people are flocking to these mysterious, towering mounds in northeast Brazil. Though they look like natural rock formations, these structures actually come from a carefully crafted design — but not one any human could think up.
Kakadu National Parks
In fact, thousands of them have popped up all over the region. From end to end, they cover an area of nearly 90,000 square miles. To put that in perspective, it matches the size of Great Britain but somehow remained undiscovered until 2018.
The Independent / Stephen Martin
That’s because dense vegetation obscures the view of the 200 million cones. Humans only came across them thanks to the expansion of farmland and satellite imaging. But what exactly built these structures? And how?
The Independent / Roy Funch
They are all termite mounds! Though best known for chowing down on wood, these bugs also construct amazing works of architecture, and this colony in Brazil may just be their masterpiece — especially when you consider the soil analysis.
Soil analysis revealed the termites began their colony at the same time the Egyptians built the pyramids! Over time, competing termite colonies merged to form this wonder. Many scientists would call termites the greatest animal architects, but not all of them…
We have to give a little bit of love to the beaver. These buck-toothed mammals expertly chew down trees and form impressive dams. Though these structures are often a nuisance for humans, we have to give them credit for what they did in Alberta, Canada.
Flickr / Kayla Alvidrez
When scanning through Wood Buffalo National Park on Google Earth in 2014, scientists found something completely unexpected: a huge beaver dam. That’s right, these rodents built a structure visible from outer space! Take that, termites.
The length of this beaver-topia clocked in at close to 3,000 feet, well over twice the length of the Hoover Dam! Naturally, somebody had to get a closer look at this feat of animal engineering.
Rob Mark of Maplewood, New Jersey set off on a solo trek to Wood Buffalo. Braving waist-deep swamps and swarms of mosquitoes, he finally reached the dam. He expected a towering view but got something else entirely.
The dam, while extending in every direction as far as the eye could see, rose only a bit above the ground. Foliage covered most of the structure, which explained why humans hadn’t noticed it. The beavers certainly put together a practical home, but not a very pretty one. Don’t any animals have an eye for style? Well…
Reddit / Loisdenominator
For that department, look no further than the bowerbird. These flamboyant creatures are essentially the Martha Stewarts of the animal kingdom. They can tie a room together and make a house into a home.
Just about any shiny or unusual object will attract a curious bowerbird. Once something grabs their attention, they will flutter down, pick up the treasure, and bring it back home — and for a very good reason.
They do it all for love! In order to find a mate, males construct elaborate nests on the ground — called bowers — and fill them with all sorts of eye-catching treasures. Much of the time, they neatly stack piles of food, too, because lunch is always a safe first date.
But bowerbirds will also fill their homes with any unusual objects they find across their territories in Australia and New Guinea. Scraps of plastic, broken glass, small toys — what most humans consider trash, bowerbirds treat as beautiful decorations.
This entire process seems crazy, but the truth is, it actually works. Once a female bowerbird finds a nest she likes, she performs a mating dance in front of her new home. Go ahead, take a bow(erbird)!
While many of the best animal architects exist out in the wilderness, some might live in your own backyard. Check out these little guys. No, those aren’t lawn ornaments. That’s a family of prairie dogs.
These rodents live in plains regions all over North America. Their territories tend to experience harsh weather all year round — blizzards, floods, and even tornadoes — which means they need to find a shelters that are impervious to all these threats.
Prairie dogs dig out extensive tunnel networks invisible to the human eye. These winding homes are more organized than you would think. They designate certain areas as bedrooms, nurseries, and even bathrooms.
Each prairie dog family usually has its own network, and they don’t tend to stray too far. They build many holes for easy escapes, and certain burrows even function as listening posts, where they can figure out if the coast outside is clear or not.
As you can imagine, these tunnels really tear up the land and make it difficult for humans to build nearby. People often try to drive out prairie dogs when developing a new area, but somehow these little guys persist.