Animal Architects and Their Homes

Vogelkop Bowerbird

Do the most primal urges need to have a primal setting, or, do we prefer to set the stage ourselves in honor of an act which is also a ritual, sacred in its own rights. Humans have had it both ways, but are we really the only ones to ‘set the mood’, as in the colloquial expression? Apparently not, the Vogelkop bowerbird, native of the Vogelkop Peninsula, builds a ‘bower’ simply to lure the females for mating.

Photograph Courtesy:

Miraculously, the task is far from rudimentary as it involves complex engineering and interior designing. The male birds from the ‘bower’ family create a visually stimulating environment with enough supply of eye candies for the females. Indeed, the idea is so appealing to the males, they have often been known to steal from their neighbors in order to impress their lady-love. The veritable display of eye candies includes berries, fruits and flowers, insect exoskeletons and pieces of charcoal, preferably in red, blue, black and orange colors. The female takes one look at the ‘bower’ and knows what she is dealing with and that seals the fate of the male.

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The 1.5 meters high ‘Bower’ is hut-like in bearing and spirals around a central ‘maypole’, covered in moss. The maypole gives way to a garden, lined with ornaments, ascribing the name ‘gardener bower-bird’ to the species.

This is but one example of animals who are born architects. Humans have come a long way, but, perhaps they have lost that instinct to build naturally sustainable homes. In his book, ‘Animal Architecture,’ Ingo Arndt expounds on many more exceptional animal shelters via a sweeping collection of photographs. For those of us with an insatiable appetite for nature and architecture, this book is a sure-keeper.

Sociable Weaver

Akin to the dating scenario, community housing is not a novel idea, however much we delude ourselves. The ‘sociable weaver’ bird, much like its name, practices community dwelling with hundreds of them building a home together that can provide for the future generations as well. The sticks and grass nests keep the birds warm owing to their thickness

Photograph Courtesy: Linda De Volder

Photograph Courtesy: Linda De Volder

Trapdoor Spiders

Heard of trapdoors? Not like these, you haven’t. These are underground habitats with concealed doors made out of debris, vegetation and silk. The doors operate on spider silk hinges and hence, appear to be one with the walls. To trap the oblivious victims, tripwire system made out of webs is used. Who are the architects you ask? Trapdoor spiders.

Photograph Courtesy: Hans Christoph Kappel /


Termites are quite notorious for their wood-eating habits and are generally considered a nuisance. We remain ignorant of their highly developed sense of architecture and colonization. Cathedral termites are known for their towering mounds with a natural air conditioning system operating via tunnels acting as ducts. They collect condensed water, have a fungi garden for cultivation and even build room-like spaces for mating. The mound is built out of mud, feces and their saliva with the colony spreading over acres underground.

Photograph Courtesy:   J. Brew

Photograph Courtesy: J. Brew

Compass Termites

The compass termites on the other hand are known for their north-south oriented wedge-shaped mounds, which apparently helps them regulate the temperature inside.

Photograph Courtesy:

Social Wasps

Social Wasps build nests out of resin, plant pulp, spit and other materials. The elegant sculptural form appears to be right out of an artist’s vision.

Photograph Courtesy:  Antoinette

Photograph Courtesy: Antoinette

Montezuma Oropendola

Community dwelling is yet again exemplified by the Montezuma Oropendola. The species build their nests out of vines and grass. It is a kingdom comprising 30 birds complete with a male king who mates with the females.

Photograph Courtesy:  Simon Valdez

Photograph Courtesy: Simon Valdez

Mud Daubers

Have any of us ever had the thought of using one’s own vomit? In an example of one of the best waste usage, the Mud Daubers build their muddy-cocoons mixing in it their own vomit. In their dens they often have prisons for keeping spiders in a paralyzed state, later to be eaten by the larvae.

Photograph Courtesy:  PREMAPHOTOS /

Photograph Courtesy:


Another intriguing architect is the Caddisfly. In its immature state, it collects along its body, pebbles, leaves and sand, and spins them together using a sticky, silk substance it secretes, in order to pupate.

Photograph Courtesy:  heatherkh

Photograph Courtesy: heatherkh

This is just a glimpse into the animal world and their beautiful architecture. There is a whole range of animals in all shapes and sizes who build shelters to leave you awestruck. From the Beavers’ massive dams and the ant colonies to the honey bees, all have something which inspires in us a desire to perceive the ways of nature and to learn form it.

By: Antara Jha

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