Nature | The Animal House
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Watch Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 8pm on WMHT TV.

Before the Bauhaus, there was the “bower” house. Before we built our skyscrapers and subways, termites had long perfected their version of a towering metropolis, while ants and prairie dogs carried out plans for enormous underground cities, complete with heating, cooling, and intersecting highways. Animals build their homes for reasons similar to our own, but they have been building their architectural marvels for much longer, leading to some remarkably sophisticated DIY. From bachelor pads to mega-condominiums, Nature takes viewers on an open house tour through the animal kingdom to explore the home life of wildlife.

Guided by instinct, animal architects have developed some of the most innovative and practical dwellings in the world. Beavers build 50-ton log dams, hundreds of yards long, changing the landscape to create a safe environment for their lodges, which are themselves a stronghold from the elements. Prairie dog “towns” consist of tunnels that stretch for miles and accommodate an extended community, including a home-grown police force and a variety of animal tenants.  Ants are spectacular engineers. Leaf-cutter ants can move 40 tons of earth to create a subterranean city for 12 million residents, and army ants are able to create living buildings made entirely of their own bodies – a sort of organic LEGO® set.

In Africa, millions of Socotra cormorants nesting on desert islands off Arabia strategically build their nests just beyond pecking range of their neighbors, creating a kind of “Levittown” community made up of inch-perfect geometric plots. Termites across Africa’s plains build tenfoot- high mounds that provide shelter, food, flood protection, and a temperature-controlled environment, kept within a degree of 86˚ Fahrenheit year-round.

While some animals use basic building materials, others are more creative. In Borneo, cave swiflets mold crystal nests from their gluey saliva. New Guinea’s male Vogelkop bower birds are meticulous interior decorators, using their artistic visions to woo a potential mate into their unique seduction pad. Burrowing owls use their décor for a different purpose. The buffalo dung they place outside their front door is really a lure for dung beetles, a tasty treat for the owls. When the beetles come calling, they become lunch.

They may be single-use, multi-generational, or multi-purpose; they may be anything from a small depression in the sand to an elaborate many-chambered tunnel, a nest, a burrow, or a mound, but for animals big and small, these dwellings are always impressive home sweet homes.