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No. 74: Mar-Apr 1991

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Few animals besides man have significantly affected our planet's geology. To be sure, corals built the Great Barrier Reef and beavers left their mark on the hydrology of parts of Canada and the U.S.; but termites!? It seems that in southern Africa this industrious insect is responsible for enormous striped patterns of ridges and vegetation bands. These amazingly regular patterns are caused by alternating low ridges and gullies. The ridges are about 2 meters high, up to a kilometer long, and separated by about 50 meters.

The ridges themselves are closely spaced termite mounds. Just why the termites choose to build their mounds in long rows is an unanswered question. And how do the termites maintain strict parallelism, especially since they are blind? How could termites in one mound know how their neighbors in the nearest ridge, 50 meters away, are building their mounds? Anyway, the ridges help channel the flow of water and thus the growth of vegetation, giving immense swathes of country a corrugated appearance. (Sattaur, Omar; "Termites Change the Face of Africa," New Scientist, p. 27, January 26, 1991.)

Comment. In Australia, the so-called "magnetic" termites build their slab-like mounds so as to minimize the amount of sun-generated heat.

From Science Frontiers #74, MAR-APR 1991. 1991-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987