The Guts That Scrape The Skies

Take a walk through the African savannah and you might stumble across huge mounds, made from baked earth. They tower up to 9 metres tall, and are decorated with spires, chimneys and buttresses. These structures are homes, nurseries, and farms, all in one. They are also guts. They’re part of one of the most fascinating digestive systems on the planet—a distributed organ that begins inside the bodies of tiny insects and expands into towers that scrape the skies.

They are the work of a termite, Macrotermes natalensis. Like most of its kin, it eats wood and other plant matter. There are vast amounts of energy locked within the ...

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