Living Like Insects

Studies of social insects can provide useful ideas for organizing human society. Studies of insect structures can provide insights for solving environmental problems. In Southern Africa, termites build giant mounds that function in temperature regulation and air circulation. The walls are porous, not solid.

The mounds themselves are built on a north-south axis. This allows them to heat up in the morning and deflect the sun rays at noon. The porous walls allow air to circulate through the mound. Air blows into the mound from the windward side and exchanges with the stale air deep inside the mound. The stale air rises and escapes out the pores in the walls on the leeward side.

Architects and engineers are modeling termite mounds and studying the possibility of porous wall structures that would have airflow designed into the building rather than having a sealed building and relying on fans to circulate air. Studies of insect design could lead to new home and building designs that are more energy efficient.

The Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, is modeled after termite mounds. This building uses less than 10 percent of the energy of buildings the same size for heating and cooling. The building uses fans to bring in air that is either heated or cooled by the mass of the building. The fresh air is vented into the floors of the building and escapes through vents in the ceiling.

By studying solutions that insects have developed for solving environmental problems, we can improve our own infrastructure.

Termite mound and Eastgate Centre

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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