Humans have improved bivvy building from low-tech foliage to high-tech tents, but the animal kingdom has its own master masons, carpenters and weavers to rival and exceed our species achievements.
Read on to discover the secrets of the best bivvy builders in nature.
Few animals are as industrious as the beaver. Its lodges often have two rooms; a drying chamber and a family room and entrances are underwater to provide protection from predators.
Before it builds the lodge, the beaver first checks that the water is deep enough; if not, it builds a dam. The animals first divert the stream to lessen its flow and then drive wooden stakes into the river bed. Obtaining timber is no problem for a beaver, its sharp teeth and powerful jaws make chopping trees down, a piece of cake. Once the superstructure is in place, the gaps are filled with anything the beavers can get their paws or teeth into.
Master engineers – in fast flowing waters – beavers build curved dykes that are thicker at the base than the top and angled upstream. Just like us in fact.
Long before humans invented air con, the humble termite had it sussed. Relative to its size, this humble insect builds the biggest and most sophisticated structure of any creature on earth.
Termite mounds are constructed by worker insects in the colony by mixing saliva with mud, masticated wood and faeces. The resultant construction is as hard as concrete. Hot air rising inside the mound draws air through the many subterranean chambers helping to keep the colony cool.
Because termites burrow to considerable depths, in Africa, metallurgists analyse the composition of mounds to determine whether or not there are gold deposits lying beneath the earth.
Wasps buzzing around during early spring are young mated queens that have made it through winter hibernation. Mating will have occurred the previous autumn and the sperm stored in a dormant state, inside the female. Awakened from her slumbers the wasp looks for a suitable nesting site.
Once found, she makes a simple paper nest of hexagonal chambers, about the size of a walnut. Into this, she’ll lay her first batch of eggs. Once enough sterile female workers have been born, the queen is free to concentrate solely on reproduction. As the numbers grow, so the nest is enlarged.
A single queen can produce a population of several thousand. Once her sperm supply begins to dwindle, the queen lays eggs that produce fertile male and females which leave the nest in search of mates. So the cycle of life begins again.
Busy bee bivvies
Honey bees colonise caves, rock crevices and tree hollows. They line the entrance with a resinous substance called propolis and hang their wax combs in parallel rows, suspended from the top and sides of the space. Bees move within the hive via small passageways around the sides of the combs.
Unlike wasps nests which generally last for just one season, bees will occupy the same space for several years. To keep numbers at a manageable level, the colony will split. A swarm of bees including a new queen, separates from the hive and flies off to begin again somewhere else.
Spider silk bivvies
Stronger than steel and with built in elasticity, it’s no wonder that scientists are examining the structure of the silk used by spiders to construct their own webs. The silk is produced by the spider’s spinneret glands and several different types can be produced by the same insect.
There’s safety line for abseiling, sticky silk for catching flies and fine wrapping silk. A single spider may be able to produce up to eight different threads. Spinning a web is nature’s way of cutting down the amount of energy expended by the spider in pursuit of its prey.
A considerable amount of protein is expended during construction of a web, but the spider is the ultimate recycler, eating its own web to recoup the nutrients before building a new one.