It's incredible, really. It features a central spire and an encircling picket-fence that's been reinforced by horizontal rails, and is strung together by a series of radially oriented guy wires. An impressive edifice at any scale, the structure measures less than 2 cm across. And here's the real kicker: nobody knows what made it.
Rainforest Expedition's Troy Alexander spotted the bizarre maypole-in-miniature a few days ago in the Southern Peruvian Amazon. The latest in a string of recent sightings, Alexander posted a photograph of his discovery to /r/whatsthisbug, a subreddit devoted to identifying insects and their handiwork.
"I posted one of these once before [see left] and got no answers, but at the time I'd only seen one and suggested that it might be an aborted start of a urodid moth cocoon," he wrote.
"I subsequently saw a few more, and they always looked like this, and no more. I assume there are eggs in the base of the maypole in the middle of the horse corral, though it might be something pupating. Please, any ideas?"
Hypotheses abound, but there's no consensus on what built the miniature security complex (almost certainly an arthropod of some sort), what it's made of (signs point to silk), or what its purpose is to begin with. A redditor who goes by whoadave points out that the structure looks rather similar to the cocoon of a Buccalitricidae moth, though other commenters think it looks more like the work of a spider, noting that the center structure could be housing a clutch of developing young. Whatever its contents, it's likely the mini-Isengard was built to support and protect it like a sort of security complex – not unlike the intricate cocoon featured in this video from Smarter Every Day:
Whatever it is, and whatever made it, it sure is beautiful. Fill up on possible explanations over on Alexander's reddit thread – we'll keep you posted on the identification process.
[Spotted on It's Okay to be Smart]