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Posts Tagged ‘google earth’

Termite mounds visible in Australia's Northern Territory- I've circled three, but dozens are in the image.

Central Illinois still resembles the frozen lifeless tundra, so to get my bug-hunting fix I’ve been surfing about on Google Earth. Here at -13.066783, 130.847383 I’ve found something: Australia’s magnificent magnetic termites. The green things are trees, but the little black pimply bits?  Those are the termites.  On the ground they look like this:

A magnetic termite mound in north Queensland, Australia.

Why “magnetic”?

The mounds are shaped as thin blades along a north-south orientation as though following compass direction.  The reasons for this odd architecture are still a matter of research, but the general view is that the shape helps termites avoid the heat of the tropical midday sun, and the extra surface area allows for more efficient respiration.

The density of termite mounds can be impressive.

More insects in Google earth here and here.

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Messor capensis nests, from above

Messor capensis nests, as seen by The Google

Over at Photo Synthesis, commentator Kate directs our attention to Messor capensis, a South African seed harvester whose nests from the air look like some form of fungal growth. Except much, much bigger. (coordinates here: 33° 36’57.32”S, 22° 08’06.38”E)

I’ve only got one really crappy photo of the beast, but I’ll subject you to it anyway:

capensis1

More Google Earth ants here and here.

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So you like insects, but can’t be bothered to get up from your computer to go look for some? Google earth to the rescue!

South of Tucson, Arizona (31°38.097’N 111°03.797’W) I found this lovely aerial image. Visualized from an elevation of about a kilometer and a half, it shows a hill just west of I-19 covered in freshly-sprouted grass. Except, there’s this strange pattern of evenly-spaced polka-dots:

barbatus1.jpg

What could account for the speckles? Alien crop-circles? Bizarre gardening accidents?

Why no, those are the nest discs of one of our most conspicuous insects in the Sonoran desert, the red harvester ant Pogonomyrmex barbatus. Down on the ground it is harder to get a sense of the even spacing of the nests, but the discs are plenty obvious. The ants keep the large area around their nest entrance free of vegetation and other unwanted debris. Below is a photo I took south of the Huachuca mountains, not far from the google earth image above:

barbatus2.jpg

Even closer-up, here are the engineers:

barbatus3.jpg

North American Pogonomyrmex aren’t the only ants whose engineering prowess is visible from low-earth orbit. Some of the more spectacular leafcutter ants in South America make even larger mounds. The image below the fold is also from Google Earth, 1 km over the Paraguayan Chaco (24°06.914’S 57°22.240’W).

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