5 Amazing Feats of Animal Engineering

5 Amazing Feats of Animal Engineering

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[INTRO ♪] Humans aren’t the animal kingdom’s only
engineers. Odds are you’ve heard about beavers, whose
famous dams can be hundreds of meters long. But while beavers steal the spotlight, there are plenty of other animals quietly building some impressive stuff! A while ago, we talked about some of the coolest
things built by bugs. And here are five more amazing feats of engineering by all types of animals, from optical illusions to entire cities underground. Sociable weaver birds don’t build little nests between a couple of branches like your average bird does. At about 14 centimeters long, these birds
are pretty small. But they build the largest tree nests in the world: up to six meters tall and three meters wide, able to house up to a hundred families at once. And just like human engineers would, they
start with the foundation. The nests can weigh a few tons, so they need to be supported by very thick branches. After that, they gather progressively smaller branches and twigs to fill out the rest of the structure before finally moving on to thin grasses for the nest’s very outer layers. Each family makes its own apartment that they’re constantly improving, changing, and adding to–because, you know, sometimes the stuff on your walls starts to feel stale. Although your walls probably don’t have
spiky straws to keep out snakes. If they do, you might want to move. The nests don’t just protect sociable weavers from predators; they also protect the birds from the intense temperatures of the southern African Kalahari Desert. Summer days can reach 43 degrees Celsius, but the nests block a lot of that heat, keeping the birds inside cooler and letting them conserve water that most birds would have used to cool themselves down. Winter nights, on the other hand, can drop
down to -10 degrees. And on those cold nights, the nests can be 30 degrees warmer than the outside air—again, letting the birds conserve energy they would otherwise have had to use to stay warm. With such nifty homes, it’s no surprise
that weaver birds live in their nests year-round. They even pass the nests down generations,
with some nests lasting a century or more. Others aren’t so lucky. In the rainy season, the already heavy nests
can get so waterlogged that they bring down the tree they were built in. But when that happens, weaver birds just get
right back to engineering. To us, male great bowerbird projects might not look as impressive as weaver bird nests, but that’s only because we’re looking from the wrong angle. The birds don’t just build something beautiful. They use a trick of psychology and optics
to make it—and themselves—look even better. All sorts of bowerbird species make elaborately colorful stages or caves, called “bowers”, by collecting things from the world around them. If a female is impressed by a male’s bower,
the male does a dance to try and woo her even further. Compared to other bowerbirds, though, the
great bowerbird’s bower can look a bit… dour. Sure, there are a bunch of rocks surrounded by loops of sticks where the male dances, but it’s not usually the colorful arrangement you find with other bowerbirds. Scientists only discovered the secrets of these bowers a few years ago, when they realized that the birds tended to put bigger stones toward the back and smaller ones toward the front. When the male stands near the bigger stones,
it creates what photographers and architects know
as forced perspective. They use it all the time to trick your brain into thinking something’s a different distance from you than it actually is— like when your friend returns from a trip to Pisa with a picture that makes it look like they’re holding up the Leaning Tower, even though they’re a few hundred meters away. With the bowerbirds, having small stones near the front means that to the female, everything in the bower looks closer than it actually is—and therefore the male, towering over it all, is much bigger than he actually is. So by cleverly engineering his bower, the male great bowerbird is able to get all the ladies. Or, at least, the ladies who like what he’s built. To find our next engineers, you need to go
where few birds ever venture: the bottom of the sea. That’s where you’ll find the 12-centimeter male pufferfish, and their underwater sand circles. It took scientists sixteen years to figure out where those two-meter circles came from after first noticing them off the coast of Japan in 1995. And when they did finally see the fish in action in 2011, it seemed to be a previously unknown species. The details are still a little murky, but
we know males make the circles to impress females. They make the long, wavy grooves by flapping
their fins along the surface of the sand. And since that’s still not enough to impress a potential mate, they decorate their circles with shells to liven things up. Then, as a cherry on top, they go out and find fine, pretty-looking sand to spread around the circle, especially in the center. Females pick a circle they like the best and lay their eggs there, but no one’s sure what exactly makes them choose one circle over another. The clever engineering here is in fluid dynamics, which the pufferfish use to avoid having to gather all that pretty center sand themselves. The wiggly grooves around the outside of the circle slow water down as it moves toward the center, where it tends to drop fine sand in those cool wavy patterns. Even after all the effort that goes into building the circles, they still don’t last very long. Ocean currents tend to destroy them after a couple of weeks, meaning that male pufferfish have to build a new one every year. But on the plus side, that means every year
they get to show off their fluid dynamics skills. We humans have only been using electricity
to our advantage for a couple of centuries. But at least one species of hornet has used electricity to keep their babies comfortable for far longer than that. Oriental hornets lay their eggs in a nest, and the larvae who hatch from those eggs spin silk cocoons around themselves so they can keep developing. The baby hornets end up deformed if their cocoons get too hot or too cold during development, so the grown-ups have a number of creative ways to keep their nests and those critical cocoons at the right temperature. When things heat up, they fan the cocoons
with their wings or spray them with water droplets. And when it gets too cold, they blow warm air stored in air sacs on their bodies to keep the cocoons warm. But adults aren’t always needed to keep cocoons safe, because the nests are built to insulate them from the outside world, and they’re also really wet on the inside. Water can absorb a lot of energy without changing its temperature much, so all that water in the nest keeps the inside temperature nice and level. So even without adults around, the inside of a nest can take a few days to reach the same temperature as the air outside. But the hornets have one final trick up their exoskeleton: the silk around their cocoons is thermoelectric. Changing the temperature of a thermoelectric material makes electric current flow through it. When a nest starts getting too warm, a tiny current starts flowing from one end of the cocoon to the other, building up electric charge on one end of it. Since energy from the outside air is being used to drive the current, it gets used up before it can heat the cocoon—and the hornet inside stays cool. Then, when the temperature gets too low, the process reverses and charges flow back to where they came from originally. Since it took heat to move them, they release heat as they move back, and the current heats up the cocoon to a more comfortable temperature again. In the early 1900s, scientists found a prairie
dog town in Texas. It was a bunch of interconnected underground tunnels, just like other prairie dog communities throughout the western United States at the time. But this one was enormous—
the biggest anyone’s ever seen. It covered about 64,000 square kilometers, and was home to an estimated 400 million prairie dogs! Which is a lot of little rodents running
around underground. Today’s prairie dogs have been kicked out of most of their historical habitat, but they still employ the same engineering smarts they used to create that gigantic colony in Texas. The simplest prairie dog homes are tubes that go from an entrance at ground level down to a room that’s a meter or two underground. But their burrows are typically much more
complicated. For one thing, they tend to have multiple
entrances. Between entrances, there’s a big U-shaped hallway, with the bottom of the U sitting a few meters underground. And off that main hallway are a whole bunch of individual chambers for families to raise their pups. The most obvious reason to build multiple entrances is that if a predator comes in the front door, everyone can run out the back. But there’s another reason, too: Having tunnels be so long and deep also means that it’s hard for oxygen from above ground to get all the way in and replace what’s used up when the prairie dogs breathe. To solve that problem, prairie dogs build
one entrance upwind and another downwind. Wind flowing past the upwind entrance pushes air all the way through the tunnels and out the downwind exit, bringing fresh oxygen throughout the tunnel system even in a light breeze. Huge prairie dog towns might have kilometers of tunnels with tons of different entrances and ventilation tubes all over the place to keep air flowing through all the time. It’s just one more way other animals have been using technology to engineer our world for far longer than humans have, from birds to fish to hornets. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow! And thanks especially to all of our patrons on Patreon, whose support allows us to keep making episodes like this one. A whole team comes together to create these
videos, and we couldn’t do it without your help. If you’re interested in learning more about
joining the Patreon community, just check
out patreon.com/scishow. [OUTRO ♪]

100 thoughts on “5 Amazing Feats of Animal Engineering

  • Stewart Mckinna Post author

    ohh hey its ron, sad that becky doesnt let him smash

  • Stagrad Post author

    Why do i feel like this is a reupload

  • Yisrael Katz Post author

    I'm curious as to how much of these engineering marvels the animals understand. There seems to be some exaggeration in the video because I doubt that bowerbirds understand optical illusions and prairie dogs understand the importance of air flow and O2. So how much is instinct that animals don't "understand" but they do things a certain way that's better for survival, and how much is less instinct and more understanding/intelligence regarding the "why" these things are built?
    I realize there's no easy answer for this…

  • J V Post author

    Can’t believe people still think all of this evolved from single cell organisms in a puddle. Come on people.

  • briansgenius Post author

    Was I the only one expecting a Robo-animal or Million-Dollar animal? This makes more sense tho, and is less ethically questionable… And was pretty dam cool 😛

  • Rishabh Bharadwaj Post author

    Hello SciShow! Can you please make a detailed video on 'Belly Lint', which is found in human males? Thanks

  • Craiger Post author

    The ancient sea bottom sand circles are too perfect to be created by people, let alone fish. It must have been aliens….


  • Fauler Perfektionist Post author

    "Compared to other Bowerbirds, though, the Great Bowerbird's bower can look a bit dour."
    😖 Ooh. That was sour.

  • MrFmiller Post author

    Going to do some research into thermoelectric wasp nest temperature regulation. That just sounds too cool.

  • Quintar Farenor Post author

    I'm just wondering if these behaviors are instinctual or learned.

  • JayPuff Post author

    U wrote 30c =54f that is not true. It equals 86f.

  • P DaPhuuLz Post author

    Which Human's Behavior do you think will amaze other lifeforms when then look at us?

  • starskie96yt Post author

    so i shouldn't use bird brain anymore.

  • Joshua Jarvis Post author

    Another interesting fish nest is the stone mounds built by chubs which draw in many other species to nest their too.

  • TheHarleyEvans Post author

    beavers deserve their spotlight though, building a dam as a human is hard enough, these guys manage without aposable thumbs and use only local materials, not only that they're able to make a different kind of structure for taking residence in, i'd say they're only trumped by termites, apocrita and us humans

  • Marco Pohl Post author

    1:18 nah, australia is a noice place… sometimes

  • Tyler VanderMate Post author

    So is there some sort if capacitor on one end of the Oriental Hornet's nest to hold the electric charge for it to then to flow back out to create heat?

  • extra_ordinary_joe Post author

    Anyone else thinking "Becky lemme smash" ?

  • Danish Ali Post author

    call me please on my wattsapp no.(03498738682) please

  • Frøken Glattbarbert Stillas-sikkerhetsinspektør Post author


  • Ангел Цветилов Post author

    SciShow at 1:28 you made a mistake 43C is 316.15 Kelvin no 230K you messed up the formula for conversion pretty bad. Correct one is: T(K) = T(°C) + 273.15
    NOT 273.15
    -T(°C) = T(K) that you have used

  • Saudiyya - Durkastanian Post author

    Why are comment sections of every video, whether it be about someone death or science is full of memes?!?! I'm not complaining, I LOVE IT!

  • Thierry Ko Post author

    I find the pufferfish circle things in '95 pretty amusing cause I'm a 95 Pisces baby.

  • MiTmite9 Post author

    What this fun or what? I've seen a couple Bowerbird nests in the wild. One of the best was located right near a campground (Australia) and the male bird had collected all sorts of blue objects to decorate his bower. It was cool to see his blue buttons, blue clothes pegs . . .

  • Haitaka123 Post author

    The electric cocoon trick blew my mind. As a Biologist, I knew the rest, although revisiting the details with more research behind it is always fascinating <3

  • The Curious Student Post author

    Bower Bower Bower

    I could do this all day!

  • Rachel Courtemanche Post author

    The pufferfish rings remind me of the alien crop circles. Pretty neat!

  • The Curious Student Post author

    Nests weighing up to at least one ton !

    I guess you could say they have tons of experience


  • Cringe //me Post author

    Is that the "Lemme smash" bird?

  • MyyMeli Post author

    lemme smash

  • Mango Post author

    I am fruit

  • metalperslfx Post author

    naah, those prairie dogs had built the particle collider way before us

  • Karen Shy Post author

    Your voice is just so soothing, I could listen to this till I fall asleep.

  • Belinda Weber Post author

    Praire Dogs build the same way people do in Cooper Pedy mate!

  • The Nerscylla Post author

    The best engineer of the natrual world is obviously chickadee engineering

  • Lachskönig IV Post author

    She doesn't like yellow

  • F.B. Jeffers0n Post author

    FYI, ants build their mounds using the same airflow technique as prairie dogs.

  • Guru Post author


  • Angela Hsiao Post author


  • aurell Post author


  • deepsy2k Post author

    If you touch this button it will turn blue


  • Gambit Post author

    i love scishow format. kudos

  • Omar Z Post author

    I thought that size didn’t matter to women…

  • James Brown Post author

    someone's had a few good christmas meals

  • Karina Matos Post author

    He is not looking as happy as usual.

  • DragoniteSpam Post author

    Fish know more about fluid dynamics than I do, wonderful.

  • Obsidian Rose Post author

    Few birds ever venture? Wait you're saying that some birds go to the bottom of the ocean? WHAT?! Which ones?

  • Keegan Durnford Post author

    Is there a dog barking in the background?

  • Justin Chan Post author

    I admire these animals more than my parents

  • Noldemort Post author

    very sexual, very likey

  • E L Post author

    The Kelvin temp appears to be off at 1:29. 43C is 316.15K. However, it would be correct if the temperature was -43C below 0.

  • Ruby Moon Post author

    james brown was a genius he figure it out way before it was cool

    This is a man's world

    This is a man's world

    But it wouldn't be nothing

    Nothing without a woman or a girl

    You see man made the cars

    To take us over the road

    Man made the train

    To carry the heavy load

    Man made the electric light

    To take us out of the dark

    Man made the boat for the water

    Like Noah made the ark

  • Nectovelius Salavin Post author

    anybody else notices the Dalek in the opening?

  • Brett Breet Post author

    I thought it was ki-LOM-eter, not KILO-meter xD

  • Eamon Rustom Post author

    ough mate the one about beavers sounds like an average day in Australia

  • Bola Bahgat Megallaa Post author

    The video needed more illustrations

  • Sinnreflektor Post author

    Damn I hoped this would be about genetic engineering of animals.
    But nonetheless interesting video

  • Justin Post author

    Videos like this are neat, but I’ll be honest, I don’t care for how Sci Show ambiguously presents things implying there’s more going on than there is.

    These animals aren’t sapient Disney characters, stop trying to make it seem like they might be. They’re sentient.

    The real miracle here is evolution and the millions of years of natural selection that has manifested creates that follow these principles of our reality. Those prairie dogs aren’t drawing up blueprints, they dig like that because the millions of prairie dogs before them that didn’t dig like they do suffocated and died, and only the ones lucky enough to dig in ways that coincided with airflow survived. That is amazing in and of itself and actually science, let’s be realistic and find the wonder in what we actually have instead of fantasy?

  • maurover Post author

    you’re much better than the other one

  • zaczane Post author

    WHAT? Nothing about how Termites have air conditioning?

  • Kieran Bodnar Post author

    I love birds of all kinds. They're magic.

  • Tragoudistros.MPH Post author

    6:49 kicked out? Did their descendants make a Tower of Babel style legend to mark the tragedy?

  • highpeacetess Post author

    it's about time we start noticing the incredible intelligence at work all around us ♡♡♡

  • highpeacetess Post author

    animals know how to work with Nature, we can learn a lot from them~

  • Budo Ka Post author

    Thank you Mr Aranda for giving me your beautiful face to look at first thing in the morning 😘

  • Nick Jones Post author

    Lemme smash. I got you blue

  • Sarah Gerhardt Post author

    My dog builds a blanket fort

  • Norman Atherton Post author

    Nice! I already heard of 4/5 of these though.

  • TacComControl Post author


  • TacComControl Post author

    Speaking of beavers… A terrible joke.

    So I saw this one woman once and she was really cute and she was actually a beaver so I was like "Dam"

  • Tfin Post author

    Bad advice: "If your walls keep out snakes, you might want to move."

  • Mandy B Post author

    The puffer fish was filmed for one of the more recent David Attenborough series (Planet Earth 2 I think). It was absolutely fascinating and incredibly beautiful. They had help from the Japanese prof and his assistant to find a fish who was about to start creating the 'bowl' and helped them set up a camera directly above it. The time-lapse was out of this world!

    Further series of Attenborough's showed that the prairie dog entrances to the tunnels have slightly different shapes at each end. The one is designed to help funnel the air down and the other to suck the stale air out. He demonstrated it with a harmless smoke from a special candle. Within a minute or so of having placed the candle in the first entrance, smoke could be seen coming out of the other (they were pretty close to each other in this case).

    Though it was fascinating to see the great bower bird and his trick with perspective (so much for bird brained, eh?) my favourite bower bird is the Vogelkop (I think it's spelt that way). It's the one that builds the 'gallery' – some of which are passed down and are decades old. Some are so big that the birds find the appropriate stick (in length and strength) and uses it as a weight-bearing prop!
    Each bird has his own taste in art – it's the only logical explanation, not an anthropomorphic description – and collects flowers, berries, bug wing cases and anything else it can which fits with his décor. He's also a very good mimic of other birds (not quite the famous lyre bird, but close). On realising that a female is near, he'll pop into his bower, which is neither his nest nor a roost, and will go towards the back where he starts calling out in 'bower bird' and other bird 'languages'. The bowers are designed in such a way that they echo! The females tour the galleries (there are often a number in a reasonably short distance) and choose the one who's impressed them the most. They mate in the bower, then off she goes. She doesn't need a male to help raise the chick as they are only found in PNG (IIRC – maybe N Australia where other bowers are found, but I don't think so), which is tropical and so has plenty of food for a bird.

    There are countless cases of animals building various constructions. Some are homes (often only for the babies, such as the wasps who create the papier mâché hexagonal cells for each larva, processing wood to get the materials. The 'guide fish' and blind shrimp work as a team – the shrimp digs out a large, complex tunnel and the fish stays on guard, even retrieving the shrimp if it's strayed too far to get food! It seems like every major animal group has at least one phenomenal architect 🖌🏗!

  • Arthur Williams Post author

    I like beavers as much as any red-and-white-blooded Canadian, but some of these other animals are pretty dam good engineers.

  • Kaylin VW Post author

    Why dont bird legs dangle when they fly

  • Novastarr Post author

    It's too early in the year to have my mind blown like this!

  • Princess YuBeace Post author

    Good to see y'all recognise our good friend the satin bowerbird 😉

  • Ms.Chris Stevens Post author

    Honestly I thought this video would be about biologically engineering animals. Oh well.

  • Ryan Van Huis Post author

    Well…. ok

  • Patchy Post author

    It is amazing how knowledge can be hard-coded in DNA. Imagine if human DNA contains more knowledge and babies are born with basic math and science skills.

  • Johnny J Post author

    Ya right, how he hell do they know that?

  • rickitty rick Post author

    Lol why he look like someone accidentally dropped yellow paint on his head and no one cared to tell him what's going up there.

  • Humberto Ramos Costa Post author

    There is a bird in Brazil (Furnarius Rufus, it lives in Argentina too) that makes an oven like house on top of trees. It's not uncommon to see some of these houses (two, three, there are photos of nine) pilled up. The 'house' have a 'curved corridor' to avoid predators, direct wind and rain. After the Furnarius leaves the 'house' it can also be used by another species like the Forpus xanthopterygius.

  • JanFare Post author

    Hey, there is a minor error during the weaver nest part. 43°C is not 230.15K… that would be -43°C

  • AtarahDerek Post author

    Reverse the polarity of the hornet pupa flow!

  • mozam the arrogant popchips fag Post author

    blue and yellow?-


  • Paper Clip Post author

    If the finer sand settles in the center, can we create a bunch of plates shaped like the puffer fish grooves to collect the microplastics floating in the ocean? They'd be better than nets that can catch life, and they'd be super low-maintainence and cheap because they'd just be stacks of plates.

  • lmudz Post author

    1:45 I don't think 54 degrees Fahrenheit is the equivalent of 30 degrees Celsius.

  • IndustrialGoose Post author

    Maybe I'm just being stupid, but wouldn't the Bower actually look smaller if he seemed to be closer than he was? Having the small rocks in the back where he stood would make him look larger, as it would appear as though the small rocks were as large as the large ones due to depth perception, making him look even LARGER due to the difference between the small rocks and the large rocks.
    But having the small rocks in front and the large rocks in the back would mean he would be compared to the larger rocks under the impression that they were smaller, making him look smaller.
    Since things which are closer to you appear larger and things at a distance smaller, so tricking the female into thinking he's closer than he is makes him look smaller, since he appears closer based on environment, but also appears to be the size he would be at a distance(which is visually smaller).
    For example if you have ever seen those art exhibits with a scene that looks normal but everything is actually strangely sized(IE a tiny chair placed in front to look like it was normal sized)

  • Dan Post author


  • Nick S Post author

    Someone’s packing on a few extra lbs.

  • dancantstand Post author

    2:32 lemme smash

  • GoodMorningRooster Post author

    That hairdo is an amazing feat. Good vid btw

  • Richard East Post author

    I guess they think beavers are to lame to be in the video.

  • Bookish_Stargazer 14 Post author

    That. Is a LOT of prairie dogs

  • Teresa Ellis Post author

    So awesome!

  • Christopher Rod Post author

    Chubby Michael is cute too

  • Nick Lawton Post author

    at 1:36, you have 43°c equaling 230.15 kelvin but that is not true. you guys obviously know there is a relationship between celsius and kelvin because you did the conversion, except backwards. instead of taking 43°’s away from 273.15 to get 230.15, you add them to get an equivalent value of 316.15 kelvin. just thought y’all should know!

  • Alexandr Kovalenko Post author

    01:29 – so passive-aggressive 43C, 110F and (!) 230.15.K 🙂

  • Oratio G Post author

    Prairie Dog ? Looks more like a big ground squirrel to me. I suppose they bark secretly.

  • J sama Post author

    Isnt a "few tons" a bit of a strech for a birds nest..

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