Category Archives: Nature

White Ant Hills


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From great engineers and builders of the industrial revolution we switch to great builders of nature.  Here we cover the fascinating world of white ants or termites.

Excerpt from The Cabinet of Curiosities, or Wonders of the World Displayed – 1840


White Ant HillsAMIDST all the curiosities of Nature’s broad volume, none exceed the labours of white ants, or termites.  To comprehend their importance and extent, it will be necessary that we should incorporate our description of their hills or nests with a few particulars of the natural history and economy of the builders, or the ants themselves.  

The structures of wasps and bees, and still more those of the wood-ant, when placed in comparison with the size of the insects, equal our largest cities compared with the stature of man.  But when we look at the buildings erected by the white ants of tropical climates, all that we have been surveying dwindles into insignificance.  Their industry appears greatly to surpass that of our ants and bees, and they are certainly more skilful in architectural contrivances.  The elevation, also, of their edifices, is more than five hundred times the height of the builders.  Were our houses built according to the same proportions, they would be twelve or fifteen times higher than the London monument, and four or five times higher than the pyramids of Egypt, with corresponding dimensions in the basements of the edifices.  

The termites do not stand above a quarter of an inch high, while their nests are frequently twelve feet; and Jobson mentions some which he had seen as high as twenty feet; “compasse,” he adds, “to contayne a dozen men, with the heat of the sun baked into that hardnesse, that we used to hide ourselves in the ragged toppes of them when we took up stands to shoot at deere or wild beasts.”  Bishop Heber saw a number of these high ant hills in India, near the principal entrance of the Sooty or Moorshedabad river. “Many of them,” he says, “were five or six feet high, and probably seven or eight feet in circumference at the base, partially overgrown with grass and ivy, and looking at a distance like the stumps of decayed trees.”

Almost all that we know concerning the habits and instincts of these curious animals, is derived from an account published by Smeathman, in the “Philosophical Transactions” for [1781]. The proceedings of this insect tribe, as detailed in that paper, are so singular, that they cannot fail to prove interesting to the reader.

Excerpt from The Cabinet of Curiosities, or Wonders of the World Displayed – 1840