8 Amazing Architects of the Animal Kingdom

Beavers aren't the only animals that build. Check out the other master builders of the animal kingdom, like spiders that curl leaves into shelters, termites that construct colossal (air-conditioned) mounds and birds that build nests large enough for 400 i

Beaver Dam

Yes, beavers are perhaps the most famous animal architects, and rightfully so. They fell huge trees to create dams, which they build to create still ponds where they can construct their winter homes, or lodges. However, what you might not know is that these mammals, in addition to being expert woodworkers, are also skilled at weatherproofing. Each year they prepare for winter by covering their lodge with a fresh coat of mud, which hardens to create a barrier against the cold and predators.

Prairie Dog Towns

Prairie dogs excavate their homes, digging burrows out of the ground. Because prairie dogs live primarily in the Great Plains of North America, which has extreme variations in weather from season to season, their homes are built to withstand extreme temperatures, floods and fires. Chambers located at different depths in the soil serve different purposes. The nursery, for example, is located deep in the soil where the temperature is more stable and young prairie dogs are better protected from predators. In addition, there are chambers close to the surface where adult prairie dogs can shelter from passing predators, and other chambers for storing food or listening for predators. Prairie Dog burrows are grouped into "towns" covering many acres, with five to 35 dogs per acre. But before people moved into prairie dog territory, prairie dog towns were enormous. One town, discovered in Texas in 1900, covered 25,000 square miles and was home to an estimated 400 million prairie dogs.

Rufous Hornero Nest

Most birds' nests are airy structures made of twigs, but not this one. The rufous hornero, a South American bird, builds unusual earthen nests in trees. It collects mud and dung to create a bowl high atop tree limbs. The sun bakes the nest to create a hardened shelter where the birds can lay their eggs. The nest is oriented to face away from the prevailing winds too, creating a refuge from the weather.


Leaf Curling Spider

Lots of spiders make webs, of course, but the Australian leaf-curling spider (Phonognatha graeffei) uses recycled material to build an addition to its home. It chooses a nice dead leaf and lines the leaf with silk, curling it to form a cozy retreat that's closed at the top and open at the bottom. These spiders hang their creation in the center of a web and shelter there as they wait for passing prey. When reproducing, the female builds another curled leaf to be her nursery, which she hangs at some distance from the web nestled in nearby foliage. In some cases, these spiders have been known to use discarded scraps of paper or other lightweight material to create their shelters.

Cathedral Termite Mounds

Termites are master builders. Their iconic mounds can reach 10 feet or more in height—in fact, the one pictured is approximately 16 feet tall. Constructed from the chewed remnants of woody trees, mud and feces, these animal skyscrapers provide all sorts of creature comforts for the termite colony: Excellent air circulation allows for the mound to be kept air-conditioned, water collects as condensation, and some colonies maintain gardens of fungi within the mound.

Montezuma Oropendola Nests

The birds known as Montezuma oropendola build elaborate hanging nests in trees in Central America. They use vines to weave the pendulous baskets, grouping the nests together into colonies. They anchor the nests with the strongest vines, adding other vines and fibers bit by bit until the nests are completed. These tropical subdivisions are often located in large, isolated trees, with the nests hanging from the flimsy far end of the branches—that discourages raiding monkeys from trying to climb out to devour the precious eggs. Montezuma oropendolas also have another way to keep predators at bay: They like to build in trees where hornets live.

Sociable Weaver Nest

The sociable weaver builds a nest that looks from a distance like a giant haystack that's fallen into a tree. But these African birds are expert architects, using a variety of different materials to create their lofted apartment block. They use larger sticks to create the basic structure, framing the nest atop their preferred foundation—a utility pole or a tree with high branches. Instead of drywall, they gather dry grasses to form the boundaries of the individual rooms, and line each chamber of the nest with softer grasses and fibers. There can be hundreds of nesting chambers in the larger nest structure, enough to accommodate the entire colony of birds. The largest nests are home to up to 400 birds. Sociable weavers also install a security system; sharp straw spikes line each entrance to keep away predators. They need them: Other birds, including birds of prey, will take advantage of the sociable weaver's building skills and construct their nests on top of the structure.

Ants rank

Ants rank with beavers as some of the best-known architects of the animal world. Ants build the elaborate colony structure by hollowing out the area with their mandibles, grain by grain. Unless the soil dries out dramatically, the chambers will keep their form. But how ants manage to construct such well-planned underground structures remains a mystery, according to ant expert Walter Tschinkel of Florida State University.

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