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Nature's creative handiwork is everywhere, from the surreal landscapes formed by termite mounds to the tiniest detail of a spider web.
Some animals sculpt homes for protection, while others try to blend in with their environments. Regardless of the reason, these feats of nature deserve as much attention as the artists featured in a gallery. Here are some of the most remarkable sculptors in nature.
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Venture to Litchfield National Park in Australia, and you'll see magnetic termite mounds as far as the eye can see. These "compass termites" align their mounds on the north-south axis, which helps keep the interior cool. Termite homes are as functional as our own, complete with chimneys and basements and even nurseries for the young ones.
Long-tailed tits may be small, but their nests are quite the big deal! Thousands of tiny pieces go into the creation of these impressive homes, from the soft, feathery down interior and sturdy silk-and-moss structure to the carefully arranged lichens that provide camouflage.
Sand bubbler crab
It's all in a day's work for the sand bubbler crab, which burrows deep into the sand and comes to the surface during low tide. Scouring the sand for snacks, the bubbler crab forms teensy globes out of sand – and whether he means to or not, he creates some fascinating patterns!
Funnel web spiders
Funnel web spiders like the grass spider above spin spiral creations that allow them to hunker down in even the smallest of crevices. Every now and then, the web catches water droplets or grains of pollen and subsequently becomes one of the most delightfully decorated abodes in nature.
Also known as weaver ants, green ants are quite different from the ones that build piles on the ground. Green ants live in trees and use sturdy leaves to build their nests. In the larval stage, these ants can produce silk, which is used by the adult ants to create a binding for the nest. These nests can span multiple trees, each housing countless ants.
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With the largest nests of any bird, social weavers are like green ants but on a much larger scale. Each nest is made up of several smaller units that can each house a pair of birds and their young. There can be up to 100 social weavers in a single complex, and the structures last for generations to come. The birds build their nests like this to keep it cool in the hot African weather.
We're not denying these stinging insects aren't terrifying, but we've got to give them credit for their intriguing nests. The nests look like paper mache because they are in a way – wasps chew up wood fiber and spit it back out to cover the honeycomb within. However unceremoniously they are created, the nests result in strangely artistic patterns.
Photo: Chika Watanabe/flickr
These guys are the costume designers of the animal kingdom — even if they're just dressing themselves up. Decorator crabs use a technique similar to the aforementioned wasps, chewing materials from the environment around them and sticking bits and pieces on fine, hooked hairs that cover their bodies. When the decorator crab stands still, it's hard to tell he's even there!
Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikimedia Commons
Known for their characteristic zigzag patterns, orb-weaver spiders are among the most artistic arachnids. Species in the Argiope genus have nearly invisible webs that are meticulously decorated in the center. Not only do they use their silk to create these decorations, but they also use – gasp! – the remains of their prey. Scientists don't know for sure why these spiders decorate their webs the way they do, but some speculate it could serve to camouflage the spider, confuse enemies and more effectively catch prey.
The spongefly larva is smart for how young it is – not only does it build sturdy web-like dome, but it connects the dome to its cocoon, offering double the protection.
Our list wouldn't be complete without the mention of these hard-working birds. They carefully form nests on cave walls using a single ingredient: saliva.
Creepy though these larvae may be, they are experts at sculpting protective shells around their sensitive bodies. They create these cases using whatever happens to be nearby, and French artist Hubert Duprat took advantage of this inclination in his project "The Wonderful Caddis Worm: Sculptural Work in Collaboration with Trichoptera." Duprat encouraged the larvae to bedazzle their cases by giving them all sorts of shiny things, from gold flakes to pearls.