After one of the hottest summers on record it is worth consider how we might better adapt our building designs for houses, offices and factories to the fierce Western Australian heat. Termite mounds provide a great example of how insects engineer their living quarters to ensure survival in hot climates.
The typical termite mound must accommodate millions of inhabitants together with their fungus gardens. Termites cannot digest the cellulose from the wood that they collect so they use the wood as a food for fungus to grow on & then eat the fungus. These fungus gardens need a stable environment in which to grow and so constant humidity and temperature is a must.
Initially it was believed that termite mounds act as a giant chimney, filtering out the CO2 from the wasps & the fungus gardens. A typical mound needs to 'breathe' 1000 litres of fresh air per day. However, recent research has demonstrated that the real ventilation is driven through the walls of the termite mound which are porous. Termite mounds tap turbulence in the gusts of wind that hit them. A single breath of wind contains small eddies and currents that vary with speed & direction with different frequencies. As the range of frequencies changes from gust to gust, the boundary between the stale air in the nest and the fresh air from outside moves about within the mounds' walls, allowing the two bodies of air to be exchanged. In essence, the mound functions as a giant lung.
As termites do not need any electricity to run the heating, cooling and ventilation on their buildings, their designs are worth paying attention to, especially if we want to continue developing our civilization in Western Australia, one of the hottest driest spots on the planet.