In stories we often come across animals that act like us and that live in houses. However charming that would be, the reality of the ways they shelter themselves is a little different.
In nature, animals demonstrate a lot more originality than us in making use of the materials at their disposal. A shelter will act as protection against predators or bad weather, or as somewhere to set up a community. For example, there are anthills that are true underground cities: they include main and secondary routes leading to differently laid-out rooms. A lot of mayors out there would be more than a little envious of those intelligent road networks.
The crafty gardener
Certain animals are regarded as ecosystem engineers because their activities modify their environments considerably. This is a domain where the beaver is well known, that expert in the creation of wetland areas after it builds its dam. Another example of an engineering species is the artic fox, which creates magnificent gardens in the tundra. Thanks to their droppings and the remains of the prey that they bring back to their dens, these foxes enrich the soil around their shelters and make it possible for as much as three times more vegetation to grow than elsewhere. These little oases attract many different animals, thereby increasing the biodiversity of the arid tundra ecosystem.
Since it’s difficult to dig in the permafrost, some dens are reused for over 100 years! They improve from one generation to the next, and are highly adapted.
How to benefit from a hammock
Some birds have brilliant ways of dodging hungry predators. That’s the case with the Montezuma oropendola, a winged creature from Central America the size of a crow. The female weaves a nest in the shape of an upturned hammock, at the bottom of which sit the eggs on a bed of dead leaves. That suspended house can measure up to two meters in length. The entranceway is in the upper section, making access difficult for intruders. Not what you’d call “birdbrains,” these oropendolas!
The invisible animal –or not
Nevertheless, not all animals go to these lengths. Some of them don’t need a shelter at all. Evolution has instead gone in the direction of a good camouflage, which lets them blend in with their surroundings, or at least most of the time... At the other end of the scale, certain species display bright, highly conspicuous colors as a way of showing their toxicity and avoiding ending up as something else’s meal. Every strategy is worthwhile!
Fortunately, animals don’t live like us in square houses. They can inspire us and fill us with awe with their ingenious constructions, which take all shapes.