Among the great variety of collective activities performed by social insects (ants, termites and some species of bees and wasps), the ability to build homes is certainly the most spectacular. Some insects are master architects and design utility-based homes with precision and creativity, accounting for storage, hunting, and protection from weather, and enemies. Naturalists, scientists and even architects could learn a few tricks about the art of making functional, protective, self-sufficient and more importantly, environment-friendly housing from insects.
On the surface, these remarkable nests look like a
complex circular maze, with a central, slightly elevated entrance. But the actual nest that exists below the soil, is an elaborate structure that holds an entire colony and its food (mainly seeds of different
grasses). The entire structure – made from mud mixed with the insect’s saliva – is always positioned on a slight slope to avoid water accumulation during the monsoons. The maze around the main entrance also facilitates flow of water away from the main entrance.
From a distance, this looks like a huge mass of leaves that appears to be stitched together. Actually, the leaves are stuck to each other with white glue (silk) that is secreted by the larvae of the Weaver ant. Each ant has a part to play in the construction process: some pick up the leaves and hold the edges in position while the others squeeze the mature larvae for the secretion. Weaver ants are arboreal, so their nests are found on trees.
Another species of arboreal ants, the Pagoda ants scrape the bark of trees, chew the leaves, mix it with their salivary secretions and regurgitate a paste to make the nests on trees. This paste hardens as it dries, the resulting shape resembling that of a Japanese pagoda. These nests are mostly found on the main tree-trunks or on the stronger branches. The nest is ovoid (egg-shaped) to direct rain water away. The Rufous Woodpecker also lays its eggs in these nests and raises its young here along with the ants.
These nests, like the name suggests, are shaped like pots with delicate necks. The wasp uses this home to lay eggs. Once the nest is ready, the wasp stores caterpillars in it after paralysing them and larvae can feed on this stored food once they hatch. Every larva has a separate chamber inside the nest. The nest is made from mud, which keeps the temperature and oxygen levels regulated.