Peru | Photography | Science

Scientists Baffled by Mysterious, Tiny Structures in Amazon: PHOTOS


There's something fun about scientists being completely stumped--it's a little reminder that, despite everything we humans have figured out about our world, the Earth is far more diverse and mysterious than we can imagine.  One such enigma has cropped up this week in South America, as WIRED explains:

Something in the Peruvian Amazon is making weird, intricate structures that resemble white picket fences surrounding an Isengard-like spire.

No one has any idea who the mysterious craftsbug (fungus? spider?) is, or what the structure is even used for, excepting the fence part, which almost makes sense. Nobody, not even the scientists. We asked.

Troy Alexander, a graduate student at Georgia Tech, spotted the first of these structures on June 7. The little, seemingly woven fence was parked on the underside of a blue tarp near the Tambopata Research Center, in southeastern Peru. He later spotted three more of the bizarre enclosures on tree trunks in the jungle.

Photos of the mysterious structures were first posted to Reddit's "What's this bug?" section 10 days ago, and biologist Phil Torres, who works in the Tambopata area, tweeted a link to the photos last week.

WIRED reached out to a smattering of scientists to ask for hypotheses about the structures' origins and got back...well, not many answers:

“I have no idea what made it, or even what it is,” said William Eberhard, an entomologist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

“I’ve seen the photo, but have no idea what animal might be responsible,” echoed Norm Platnick, curator emeritus of spiders at the American Museum of Natural History.

“I don’t know what it is,” said arachnologist Linda Rayor, of Cornell University. “My guess is something like a lacewing, but I don’t really know.”

Towleroad scientists--anyone have a theory as to what these tiny towers might be?

Check out some more photos of the formations, AFTER THE JUMP...

(photos courtesy of Troy S. Alexander and the Tambopata Research Center)



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  1. A tiny alien radio tower.

    Posted by: Brian | Sep 6, 2013 10:36:20 PM

  2. A corral.

    Posted by: John | Sep 6, 2013 11:02:47 PM

  3. Unbelievably awesome. It looks like some sort of intricate egg fence compound and support/sensor wires to protect the developing eggs from ants and such. Wonder what sort of clever unknown beastie made it?

    Posted by: Mike | Sep 6, 2013 11:24:17 PM

  4. Ha, bets are off if ALL the spires are aimed at exactly the same part of the sky . . .

    Posted by: Mike | Sep 6, 2013 11:38:37 PM

  5. My guess is it's a spider web/trap that mimics what a fly or bee or moth sees in infrared. Goes in for the nectar, and doesn't get out.

    Posted by: Tom | Sep 7, 2013 1:06:02 AM

  6. ADAMK - douchey.

    i wouldn't be surprised if this is a hoax.

    Posted by: peter | Sep 7, 2013 3:12:02 AM

  7. fairy's dance pole maybe?

    Posted by: Felix | Sep 7, 2013 3:19:22 AM

  8. I once ran into something similar to this in Belize. In that case it was a fungus. Beautiful structure.

    Posted by: chuck | Sep 7, 2013 4:05:59 AM

  9. It's those crop circle pranksters again, only they've had to downsize.

    Posted by: Fox | Sep 7, 2013 4:08:42 AM

  10. Fungi

    Posted by: Bill Perdue | Sep 7, 2013 4:23:56 AM

  11. The REAL invasion of the Body Snatchers....

    Posted by: thepolarbeast | Sep 7, 2013 9:33:21 AM

  12. LOL Mike

    but not necessarily if pointed towards magnetic north or south = could be electroreceptive insect....not sure of any insect like that but shraks, platapus, and homing pigeons are electroreceptive

    now siding with those who think its an egg sack

    Posted by: Moz's | Sep 7, 2013 10:37:56 AM

  13. Even in Reddit they pointed to very similar –though not exactly the same- structures made by a kind of moth, with pics. So come on, yet another one, interesting species, but don’t get delusional with the hyperbole. There are thousands of unstudied species –and this is no secret-, obviously from time to time some curiosity –for foreigners, locals don’t even bother- will appear. I like to imagine these articles in the tone of “Hey, scientists don’t know, check mate big foot denialists!”

    Posted by: SAYTHETRUTH | Sep 7, 2013 11:09:10 AM

  14. forget the scientists, ask the locals

    Posted by: hell-O | Sep 7, 2013 11:34:29 AM

  15. Jersey: I think you're on to something. It looks like the kind of fruiting bodies produced by slime molds.

    Posted by: Jason Z | Sep 7, 2013 12:04:45 PM

  16. I think these structures are beautiful!

    Posted by: WayneMPLS | Sep 7, 2013 12:32:36 PM

  17. Has anyone tried listening through a megaphone yet for WHO's?

    Posted by: Mikey DallasM | Sep 7, 2013 12:58:35 PM

  18. It's a hoax.

    Posted by: Just Do It | Sep 7, 2013 1:14:36 PM

  19. Whoville starchitects! Maybe a Nanite Maypole? Or, it could be extra-terrestrials. Who says they have to be our size? It's probably not nearly as exciting as we imagine. It's still amazing and pretty darn cool.

    Posted by: Victor_in_PA | Sep 7, 2013 1:49:45 PM

  20. Brian: I'm with you. Looks like a radio tower, probably for eavesdropping.

    Posted by: jamal49 | Sep 7, 2013 3:47:01 PM

  21. Some type of moth. I've seen similar structures they've made, especially round fence-like part.

    Posted by: Droc | Sep 7, 2013 4:24:39 PM

  22. Slime mold is my first guess

    Posted by: Mike W | Sep 7, 2013 7:09:28 PM

  23. Slime mold is my first guess

    Posted by: Mike W | Sep 7, 2013 7:09:28 PM

  24. My best guess would be something fungal.

    Posted by: Mike B. | Sep 8, 2013 3:40:40 AM

  25. Jackal? Jackal? Is is a Jackal? Looks like a Jackal

    Posted by: brett | Sep 8, 2013 10:18:01 PM

  26. « | 1 2 3 »

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