AN ‘EMPIRE’ of termite tunnels believed to be the size of Britain has been discovered in a remote Brazilian forest by an academic from the University of Salford.
The underground network is signposted by up to 200 million clay coloured mounds and spans an area of around 90 thousand square miles.
Described for the first time in the journal Current Biology, the scientists says some of the cone-shaped mounds are as tall as 10 feet and as wide as 30 feet.
A single termite species is responsible for the massive network of tunnels that excavated enough soil to build 4,000 great pyramids of Giza, established Stephen Martin, Professor of Social Entomology.
Prof Martin discovered the mounds while researching bees in the North-East of Brazil and soon realised they were not only linked over a vast area but still an active colony.
His colleague Roy Funch of Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana, said: “This is apparently the world’s most extensive bioengineering effort by a single insect species.”
Professor Martin, from the Ecosystems and Environment Research Centre, at Salford stated that each mound is actually waste from a huge subterranean tunnel network where the termites have laboured for thousands of years.
‘These mounds were formed by a single termite species that excavated a massive network of tunnels to allow them to access dead leaves to eat safely and directly from the forest floor.
“The amount of soil excavated is over 10 cubic kilometres, equivalent to 4,000 great pyramids of Giza, and represents one of the biggest structures built by a single insect species.
“It’s incredible that, in this day and age, you can find an ‘unknown’ biological wonder of this sheer size and age still existing, with the occupants still present.”
Huge termite mounds have been found in other regions but are rarely still active colonies.