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Termites are tiny insects about the size of an ant. They live in colonies that may contain 2 million relatives. Despite their small size they are remarkable builders.

Termites in some places construct huge mounds as each insect carries dirt in its mouth. In the South American country of Brazil there is one place with about 200 million of the cone-shaped mounds, each standing about 7 ½-feet tall and 27 feet wide at the base. There are so many and they are so large that they show up on Google Earth.

Scientists estimated that to create the mounds the small bugs moved as much soil as the ancient Egyptians would have used if they built 4,000 great pyramids of Giza instead of just three. Some of the mounds are as old as some of the pyramids, about 3,800 to 690 years old.

Like the pyramids, the mounds contain tunnels and are connected to each other by underground passages.

Scientists are interested in how termites build their homes. The South Dakota School of Mines & Technology has been awarded $475,000 from the National Science Foundation to study termites’ mounds with the idea that humans might one day use the energy-efficient techniques to build human homes.

According to the school, the mounds are naturally energy efficient. Their tunnels allow air to flow through the dirt and help keep the structures cool when it’s really hot outside.

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Although termites are really good at building, they can also destroy. If termites infest a home they can eat the wood in the walls and floors. Wood, leaves and other dead plants are part of their natural diet.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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