Submillimetre mechanistic designs of termite-built structures

Sebastian Oberst, Richard Martin, Benjamin J. Halkon, Joseph C.S. Lai, Theodore A. Evans, Mohammed Saadatfar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Termites inhabit complex underground mounds of intricate stigmergic labyrinthine designs with multiple functions as nursery, food storage and refuge, while maintaining a homeostatic microclimate. Past research studied termite building activities rather than the actual material structure. Yet, prior to understanding how multi-functionality shaped termite building, a thorough grasp of submillimetre mechanistic architecture of mounds is required. Here, we identify for Nasutitermes exitiosus via granulometry and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy analysis, preferential particle sizes related to coarse silts and unknown mixtures of organic/inorganic components. High-resolution micro-computed X-ray tomography and microindentation tests reveal wall patterns of filigree laminated layers and sub-millimetre porosity wrapped around a coarse-grained inner scaffold. The scaffold geometry, which is designed of a lignin-based composite and densely biocementitious stercoral mortar, resembles that of trabecula cancellous bones. Fractal dimension estimates indicate multi-scaled porosity, important for enhanced evaporative cooling and structural stability. The indentation moduli increase from the outer to the inner wall parts to values higher than those found in loose clays and which exceed locally the properties of anthropogenic cementitious materials. Termites engineer intricately layered biocementitious composites of high elasticity. The multiple-scales and porosity of the structure indicate a potential to pioneer bio-architected lightweight and high-strength materials.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20200957
Number of pages1
JournalJournal of the Royal Society, Interface
Issue number178
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2021


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