Friday, August 23, 2013

Inhuman Design: Strange and Beautiful Animal Homes

We love to decorate our homes and ourselves. As far as I know, we humans have been adorning ourselves ever since we became, well, human.

But if we thought we were the only animals to decorate, we would be mistaken. Creatures from insects to birds create beautiful homes, nests, and coverings for themselves.

Sometimes they do it by accident- the materials around them simply end up as part of their decor. Sometimes the beautiful design comes as part and parcel of building strong structures for living or storing food.

Other times, the decorative effect is painstakingly intentional, often directed at wooing a mate.

Here are some unusual, beautiful, or just unexpected animal homes.

These caddisfly larvae probably didn't set out to create beautiful jewelry, but their careful work arranging rocks and sticks can just as easily be put to work with precious metals and jewels. The provider of these precious stones is French artist Hubert Duprat, who calls himself a collaborator in the artworks. He has been working with caddisflies since the 1980s.

The bower bird, on the other hand, is an intentional decorator. The male creates elaborate nests, strewn with a beautiful array of found objects. The nestmaker on the left chose blue as a color scheme, but the color and design choices are up to the individual bird. White or blue collections are common, but multicolored designs are possible too.

Both natural and human artifacts find their way to these birds' nests. The female bower bird is extremely picky, so the style of the nest and the strength of the collection is extremely important. She may visit many nests before making her choice.

 Looking almost like a beast unto themselves, the nests of African social weaver birds are amazing to see. These are the largest bird nests in the world, and home to hundreds of birds-- entire extended families living together in complex structures.

The nests may endure for over a hundred years and generation upon generation. The structures retain heat, keeping the inner passageways warm throughout the night.

We often think of honeybees in human-created hives, pollinating gardens and crops. Sometimes the silo-like formation of their nests also becomes an unwanted presence in a shed or other human space. But in the wild, their nests are quite beautiful, with honeycombed lobes.

Harry the crab lives in the Discovery Area of the Atlantis Submarine Voyage exhibit at Legoland Windsor, Britain. Admittedly, he did not build his own shell (although that would be something of a feat, with pincers...) but he chose it above all others offered to him. I guess it might have been a bit embarrassing for Legoland if he hadn't. Perhaps there are a hundred other Harrys in a tank in the back, all of whom preferred regular shells and will live out their lives in obscurity.


A rare species of bee, Osmia avosetta,  make these delicate nests, constructed of mud and flower petals. The solitary bees use them to protect their offspring; once the eggs are laid and food stores provided for the little ones, the nest is sealed up. ❉


  1. Great article but please fix the 2 bowerbird pics so they display (until then you can click the thin sliver of each photo that shows and the picture will pop up in the Pin It window). Definitely an article to Tweet -- the Frank Lloyd Wright of birds!

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