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Learn from animals, birds and insects

No. 013 Reading Time 4 minutes

We are animals in more ways than one.

Building a shelter and choosing the right materials should be our intrinsic nature. It seems we have decided to believe our institutions over our intuition.

We have stopped building for survival and outsourced most of our necessities.

In that process, we have lost the belief, confidence, and skills to build our shelters.

Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

 How Tolkien Described the Bilbo's Hobbit House

Animals have an instinct that tells them where to settle.

Their burrows also tend to face south for warmth.

They can figure out the required ratios of soil and water.

There is a lot to learn from them. Observing their building behaviors can help us rediscover our suppressed building instincts.

Picture: Mongabay


Termite mounds are excellent examples of architecture and community construction. They outsmart humans when it comes to ventilation systems. These earthen structures are strong and can last decades.

Termites mix soil with their saliva and excretions to achieve high strength. They are so hard that only a drill or hammer can break them.

The natural materials dictate the shapes, textures, and colors.

Image courtesy: PBS

Saliva makes the castle weather-resistant in case of rain. Scientists even call it "Termite Fevicol." They produce their bio cement with saliva, soil, and water. These spherical bricks are called ‘boluses.’

Bolus-making behavior seems to come naturally to termites. If given a choice of materials, they prefer the ones that contain organic matter and are granular, rough, and wettable like soil. Termites know the right ratios of soil and water to use.


Like humans, they can change a landscape.

They build dams with layers of dried mud and sticks. The entrance to which is hidden under the water. They build at night and carry mud with their forepaws. Sticks between their teeth.

They drag logs and float them through canals to get them in place.

Their lodge can shelter up to 15-20 beavers. It has separate chambers for drying off and for daily activities.

Their dams help in restoring wetlands, prevent erosion, help biodiversity, and control floods.

Swallow Birds

Amongst birds, 5% of all birds use mud and stones.

Swallow birds build their nests attached to cliffs, walls, or ceilings. They develop a unique building material, a mixture of mud and saliva.

They pile wet mud on the nest that they carry on their beaks from puddles, ponds, or lakes. The cohesion and adhesion with the cliff or wall are fascinating.

The finished nests contain about 1000 pellets.

Photo courtesy: NDTV

Hundreds of mud nests could be seen on the house's parapet.

Mud Dauber Wasps

Black and yellow mud daubers build nests using local soil to protect their eggs.

Mud daubers collect sandy silt with some clay and form a ball by changing moisture content.

They compact nest cell walls by tapping their front legs and mandibles.

New organ pipe mud dauber wasp nest, showing different muds gathered from different places

Professor Nathan Lo, from the university's School of Life and Environmental Sciences, said: 'Given that a worker termite stands about 3mm (0.1 inch) in height, these mounds are in human terms the equivalent of four Burj Khalifas stacked on top of each other.'

How crazy is that?

Stop feeling small.

Have an “Instinctive” Sunday!

Raghav and Ansh

One question we are pondering this week -

If insects, birds, and animals can build with mud, what's stopping you?

PS: We'd love to know what you thought of this newsletter, feel free to reply and let us know!


The American beaver's ability to nibble wood demonstrates the stunning adaptability of these amazing mammals. In addition to creating their own lake, this family of beavers construct a make-shift fridge and winter-time snug.

The award-winning journalist Lisa MargonelliIn is the author of Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology.

“This book is about termites in the way the Bible is about men with beards. Yes, it takes you into the mounds and inside the bugs, but also deep into the strange labs and pulsing, eclectic minds of the roboticists, geneticists, physicists, and ecologists who try to figure them out. Perhaps best of all, it takes you deep into the brain of Lisa Margonelli, one of our finest writers and most original thinkers.” - Mary Roach

If you have the same question, read the full thread.


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Tiny Farm Friends Newsletter. Every Sunday, we share tiny valuable lessons to help you transition to the countryside and build naturally.


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