Sometimes referred to as ant mounds, an ant hill is an above-ground structure resembling a small hill or mound made of dirt. These may resemble tiny piles of dust or massive outdoor stalagmites.

Most ant species live underground in vast complexes of tunnels and rooms. All of that excavated dirt has to go somewhere. As the workers excavate new passageways and chambers, they carry the dirt out and deposit it at the entrance, much like human miners do. Ant hills are the result.

The mounds are built around the colony entrances and tamped down to help prevent rain from flooding the lower galleries. To some extent, they also serve as temperature regulators, much like a vestibule or sally port in human structures.

But more important than the hill itself is the fact that this is just one entrance to a massive underground complex, and thus an ant hill may be considered similar to an iceberg, with only a small portion being visible.

The term “ant hill” is sometimes used synonymously with an entire ant colony, and this usage means they can get pretty big. Extending anywhere from two inches (5 cm) to 13 feet (4 m) deep, colonies sprawl out horizontally just like a human city.

The current Guinness record holder is a supercolony of Argentine ants discovered in southern Europe in 2000. It extends more than 3,700 miles (5900 km) across and has literally billions of residents.

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