FUQ: Where do animals get their architectural degrees?

Our good friends at the architecture department spend most of their time pouring over diagrams and charts, trying to give physical form to whatever their imaginations can cook up after the day’s ragging.

The fruits of their toil are truly splendid, ranging from the modest Eiffel Tower to the glorious NITT hostel office.  Every tree in the concrete jungle around us is a result of years of meticulous planning, precise mathematics, and countless hours spent toiling away on A2 sheets, not to mention tissue paper.

But how can the astonishingly dumb-looking beaver pull off something similar? How does a swarm of yellow needles manage to build geometrically perfect hexagonal beehives?

This week FEEDS FUQs asks: Where do animals get their architecture degrees?

Let’s take the beaver. When they pose for photographs, they look like your most annoying cousin asking for that last piece of chocolate. Unlike your cousin however, they have a direct effect on the ecosystem.

Yes, that’s right. Renowned for building complex water structures like dams, lodges, and even canals, these muffin-faced rodents modify their immediate environment so much that they have been labelled a keystone species. This means that their survival is essential for the overwhelming majority of other species around them.

What’s remarkable here is the degree of planning and coordination that is required to construct these structures. The first phase of building involves felling a very specific type of tree by gnawing through their trunks. After that, their branches are systematically collected and placed on a natural slope in a flowing river. Our bucktooth friends then collate these branches using mud and dirt, which harden considerably on drying.

This dams the river, creating a small pond along the dam. Now, the beavers build themselves a nice, cozy home in the middle of the pond, complete with underwater entrances and Beaver TV, sometimes. Obviously, this protects them from predators that can’t swim.

This whole process is fascinating, if we examine the problem solving processes involved. It’s difficult to imagine a random Mr B, troubled by predators, saying “You know what’d be nice? If we could live in the middle of the river. These cats can’t swim!” Mrs B, his logical wife, would then say “But that’s ridiculous, won’t the river push us downstream forever? We can’t stop the water”.

“I’ve just had the craziest idea…”

But that’s not what happened.  Somehow, the completely natural and unintentional processes of evolution and natural selection have started with a few strands of RNA and created a species that can think beyond its own flat tails, to think about the future, and to work together for the common good.

The lesson here, on some level, is humbling. Beavers make us realize that things like problem solving, intelligence, coordination, planning, and even foresight are not exclusively for humans. Anyways, it’s been nice gnawing you.

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