Many animals build homes for themselves or their babies. Some search for special materials, while others use what is nearby.
Animals make homes of different shapes and sizes, in different places. They build their homes to suit their needs: warm or cool, dry or moist, showy or camouflaged. Most are comfy and safe.
Social insect homes
Social insects such as many bees, wasps, ants and termites, build nests together out of several ‘cells’. Sometimes millions of insects work together, making huge homes. These buildings may contain stores of food, eggs, babies, and even gardens.
Insect homes can be built using paper made of chomped-up wood, cement made by mixing soil and water, or specially-made beeswax. Some hang from trees, some are underground, and others form massive towers.
Have you ever watched a wasp munching on wood to make her home with? Listen carefully and you may even hear her chomping too!
This wasp nest was built inside the armour of a dead armadillo.
Termites are social insects related to ants. They are small, but they work together in huge numbers to make giant homes with soil, water and saliva.
The nest area of the building is underground. This is where the termite eggs and babies are kept safely. Termite mounds also contain food stores and fungus gardens. The mounds have tunnels and shafts to keep the air fresh.
Termite mounds can get very large. The tallest ever found was 12.8 metres high. The widest ever found was 32 metres across!
Solitary insect homes
Solitary insects, who live on their own or in small groups, make tiny homes. Insects may use leaves, petals or mud to make their homes. Some are built inside plants or underground for extra protection.
Leafcutter Bees cut neat sections of leaf to make their homes with. They glue them together with their saliva. They build their homes in safe places like holes in rotting wood or old walls.
Potter Wasps mix soil and water to make mud nests. The Potter Wasp lays an egg in the pot she has made. She puts food like caterpillars inside to feed her baby once it hatches.
Carpenter Bees dig tunnels in wood to make homes for their babies. They make a separate cell for each egg, safely inside the tunnels.
Egg sacs and cases
Some animals make egg sacs or cases to help their babies grow and hatch safely.
Female spiders spin egg sacs with silk. The shape and size of an egg sac depends on the type of spider. Some spiders guard or hide the egg sac for extra safety. When the baby spiders emerge they are fully formed, but tiny.
Female Praying Mantises make a foamy froth with special glands. They lay their eggs in the froth. The froth hardens and protects the eggs while they develop. A mantis egg sac is called an ootheca.
This beautiful object (below) looks like a shell, but is actually the egg case of an Argonaut, a type of octopus.
The female Argonaut secretes the egg case from special tentacles. She lays her eggs in it, and also shelters in it herself.
Mermaid’s purses are the egg cases of some sharks, rays and skates. Before a female lays an egg, her special ‘shell gland’ surrounds it with a case made of protein.
The egg case is tough and well camouflaged. The little tendrils on mermaid’s purses help them attach to seaweed.
Bird nests – cups
Many birds build cup-shaped nests. They keep eggs and chicks safe and warm inside. One or both parents also sit on the eggs to incubate them, so the nests must be strong.
The nests below were all collected or found in Britain. Most were collected a long time ago. It is now illegal to collect bird nests and eggs.
Dunnocks use twigs and moss to build their nests, and make a soft lining with wool or feathers.
Bird nests – weird and wonderful
Birds make nests in lots of different shapes and sizes.
Some nests are huge! Birds called Megapodes (relatives of chickens and pheasants) build mounds of vegetation to incubate their eggs in. The eggs are warmed by the heat of rotting vegetation. The nests can be up to 10 metres wide.
Flamingos build platforms of mud to lay their eggs on. Thousands of Flamingos can live together in a colony.
Sociable Weavers also group together to build their nests, forming huge structures that can last for over 100 years and be used by hundreds of birds. There are lots of types of weaverbird. Each use different materials or techniques to weave beautiful nests of amazing shapes.
These miniature nests (below) are coated in bits of lichen, adding camouflage. Spider silk helps hold the nests together.
A Tailorbird sews leaves together to make a safe place for her nest. She uses her sharp beak to pierce holes through the edge of leaves. She joins edges together using plant fibres or spider silk. This becomes a camouflaged cup to build her nest in.
Female Eiders pluck soft down feathers from their bellies to make warm nests for their eggs and chicks.
Willie Wagtails bind their nests together with spider silk. They also add animal fur for warmth and softness.
This nest (above) was discovered when the tree it was in was chopped down. The tree must have grown around the nest after it was abandoned (below).
Swiftlet nests are made with saliva which becomes solid when it dries. These nests are harvested in parts of Southeast Asia to make bird nest soup.
Long-tailed Tits are woodland birds who build their nests in the forks of trees or bushes. Their nests look like soft, cosy slippers. A pair of Long-tailed Tits spends between one and three weeks making their nest.
They gather lots of material, including moss, lichen, spider egg cases and feathers.
Researchers at the University of Glasgow took apart a Long-tailed Tit nest to see exactly what was used to make it. Imagine the work that went into gathering and building all these tiny nest building blocks. Long-tailed Tits look out for Wood Pigeon feathers discarded by Sparrowhawks when they pluck their prey. They find good supplies of duck feathers at the edges of ponds. Spider egg cases help stick the nest building blocks together, and lichen provides camouflage. Moss is soft and warm for the eggs and chicks.
Bird nests and their makers
Arthur Gilpin (1908-1988), a Leeds photographer, took lots of photos of British birds and their nests.
Bird nests are made in a huge range of shapes, sizes and places. They are all built to keep eggs and chicks safe.
Lots of birds make their nests by weaving together materials like grass and other vegetation, sometimes adding moss, feathers, spider silk, hair or mud.
Some birds lay their eggs in a ‘scrape’ on the ground, rather than building a fancy nest. Vegetation and other material might be added for extra camouflage, or for warmth.
Birds like Sand Martins dig burrows to lay their eggs in. Others nest in burrows made by other animals.
Beavers are well known for their building skills. Beavers are safer from predators in the water. They build dams across rivers using mud, stones and sticks. This slows the river down, forming a pond.
They build their home (‘lodge’) in the pond, with logs and branches. The entrance to the lodge is underwater, keeping out predators.
They also store food underwater so that it is safe from other animals during the winter. Beavers can also build canals to link up ponds.
Beavers have sharp teeth and strong jaws, so they can gnaw through tree trunks. Their front teeth are a rusty colour as they have extra iron in, which makes them stronger.