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Civil Engineering Animals

Civil Engineering Animals

The best thing about being an independent writer is that I can tackle all the hard hitting stories surrounding Civil Engineering as a profession, without fear of repercussion from advertising sponsors. That’s why today I’m delving into this thorny issue, which threatens to strike at the very heart of the industry:

What are the top 5 Civil Engineering animals?


Giant Termite Mound

That’s a tall structure.

If termites had any of the required anatomy, they would laugh with scorn at our pitiful attempts to build tall structures. “Burj what?” they would say, “830m of aerial?!” This is because they quite regularly build termite sky-scrapers, the largest of which scales up to an amazing 2km (human). But that’s not the worst of it, for the majority of these little blighters, the extravagant structures are nothing but glorified ventilation systems to keep the vast civilisation of tunnels air conditioned. Formed of soil, saliva and dung, however, I’m not convinced the construction method will take-off, even with the most dedicated of sustainable developers.

Prairie Dogs

Prairie dog.

Underground cities.

On the subject of tunnellers; it’s hard not to admire the humble Prairie Dog, which builds an underground town to better defend against the floods, fire, temperatures and predators that strike its natural habitat. When not doing Mexican Waves, they are forever performing maintenance on these underground systems, which include everything from over-flow channels to nurseries. Although typically about 10m long, the largest of these towns was apparently in Texas, covering 65’000 square kilometres and housing over 400 million of the little rodents. That makes it larger both in sprawl and population than anything man-kind has built.


Spider in a web.

Stronger than steel.

Spiders may not be the most popular of creatures, but if you’re looking for the masters of material science and disaster tolerant structures, you needn’t walk much further than your own back garden. Of course, construction is substantially easier if can secrete a substance with the tensile stress of steel, however the most interesting thing about web-silk is the odd stress/strain curve it exhibits. Initially softening and then hardening again when pulled (unlike the elastic/plastic response of most civil engineering materials), this creates a flaw tolerant system where the web always fails exactly at the location of the force. It’s so impressive that MIT are even researching how this can improve the earthquake response of our structures.



Nests in the sky.

It seems obvious that our closest animal relations (let’s have none of that creationist stuff here) would engineer their environment. For those who are wondering, Chimpanzees made this list from the vast temporary working platforms (or nests, as they call them) they construct. Depressingly, however, they are the only primates to do so, and even this construction is pretty much it for environmental manipulation. Interestingly, however, work is being down to trace the evolution of tools by our hairy cousins to find out just why we’re the only ones who civil engineer.



Dam beavers!

I think we all knew that there would be no way that this list would omit the, frankly adorable, national animal of Canada. Yes, that’s right we’re talking Beavers and their dams. Arguably beavers truly are the civil engineers of the animal kingdom as their works significantly affect the local ecosystem; creating a true built environment where even other animals flourish; in fact, they’ve actually made it onto the crest of the ICE! The effect they have on their surroundings is so pronounced that they are often at odds with us engineers; flooding roads and blocking waterways.

Once again the animals laugh in the face of our technical achievements. The longest beaver dam in the world is visible from space and, at 2790ft, is twice the length of the Hoover dam. Perhaps most fascinating is how similar the construction of a beaver dam is to ours, including spillways, adding curvature to resist high-flows and improvised cofferdams from trees driven into the river bed like piles.

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  1. Loved these stories, shows what amazing things can be achieved by “incremental improvement” or as it is sometimes known: evolution. A lesson here for mankind, not just engineers.

    • Indeed, although, as I said, it’s a bit disappointing that primates don’t really do much to build their environment.

  2. Cute post.


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