Animals & Wildlife Magazine

The Existence of Mima Mounds is Finally Explained

By Frontiergap @FrontierGap

Mima mounds, or circular hillocks, have puzzled people since their discovery in Washington 172 years ago. A recent study may have finally solved this puzzle, with gophers.

The existence of Mima mounds is finally explained

Image courtesy of Morgan Davis. 

Mima mounds are often found in their millions, pimpling the landscape for several miles. They are up to 2 m tall and 50 m in diameter, and are found in all of the world’s continents, with the exception of Antarctica. The way in which they are organised gives an illusion of design, so much so that early explorers in America thought they were the burial grounds of Native Americans. Other explanations have included earthquakes, glaciers and, of course, aliens, but each of these are supported by only scant evidence.

“The big mystery surrounding Mima mounds is that, until now, nobody really knew how they formed” said Dr. Manny Gabet, San Jose State University. Until now being the important part, as Gabet and his team have potentially found the solution to this longstanding mystery – the humble gopher. When a gophers’ habitat is saturated with water, they move soil upwards to stay dry, and over many many years, these movements can result in large structures. “I developed ‘digital gophers’ and had them behave like they do in real life, and to my surprise Mima mounds just started to form in the virtual landscape” said Gabet. Further, the way the mounds packed together and positioned themselves were almost exactly like they are in real life.

However, Mima mounds are found all over the world and gophers are just found in North America. Gabet suggests that other animals may be doing similar work. “A good place to start would be to dig into these mounds [in other countries] and see what kinds of critters are living inside of them”.

If gophers and other animals are really the cause of these amazing structures, they provide a further example of animals’ capabilities as engineers, which already include termite mounds and beaver dams, amongst others.

By Matthew Everatt

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