The fun practice of dressing up termite mounds across the Northern Territory to resemble people has sparked an academic study.
Researchers want to know what it can teach them about fundamental human behaviour.
This study from Professor Claire Smith and Gary Jackson from Adelaide's Flinders University labelled the anthill creations as "Snowmen".
They observed around 300 termite mounds, dressed as people, along the Stuart Highway.
"They are reminiscent of giant, ochre coloured 'snowmen' in their distinctly human forms of decoration," the study found.
Researchers observed tall, colourful mounds with scarves, caps, singlets, shirts, sunhats, bras, hard hats and even a beer can.
They followed the trail of Snowmen about 1800km from the Noonamah Hotel just outside Darwin all the way down to Kulgara, just north of the South Australian border.
"The snowmen are an irreverent, larrikin, Northern Territorian phenomenon," the study found.
"But who created them? And what can they teach us about fundamental human behaviours?"
Termite mounds occur naturally. They are made of clay, soil, sand and other natural materials, bound together with the saliva of termites. They occur globally and can reach as high as five metres.
In the NT, the first snowmen appeared during the 1970s. More quickly followed. They appear on both public and private land, lining major highways and rural roads and extending into national parks.
Over the years, many people have made these snowmen.
Some were made by roadworkers, staying at roadside camps along the highway, with limited access to towns and entertainment but plenty of work clothing.
Some were made by the owners of rural and remote properties. Some were made by fisherman traversing to remote fishing locations. Some may have been decorated by tourists.
The manager of the Royal Flying Doctor Service Tourist Facility, Samantha Bennett, is a Territorian born and bred.
"Sometimes the clothing is changed according to festive calendars," Ms Bennett said.
"They don't do Halloween, but they definitely do Christmas and Australia Day. They dress them up with flags and high viz clothing, which is cool because you can see them from a distance.
"Sometimes, they are used to help with directions. They mark the location of a driveway in a remote area or turnoffs to secret fishing spots."
The university said the snowmen are actually snow people - men, women and children.
Some are arranged in family groups. Gender is marked by clothing. Economic status can be discerned through the use of silk scarves, resort wear or hard hats.
The snowmen are part of a wider cultural landscape in the NT. If you go to the Coburg Peninsula and lose one of your thongs, you put the remaining thong on the thong tree: a tree covered top to bottom with old rubber thongs.
Then there is the "fence of shame" on Andreas Avenue at Dundee Beach, west of Darwin. This is where you put your fishing rod if you have broken it during your trip.
There is material evidence that the snowman tradition has some longevity. In some cases, the clothing is in a dilapidated state. In others, the termites have renewed their building efforts on top of the clothes.
It is unlikely that the snowmen were created by Aboriginal people. As Barunga resident Isaac Pamakal explains: "Aboriginal people don't do that, because that might make people sick."
Termite mounds are woven into NT Aboriginal belief systems. In some areas, there is a belief that anyone who knocks over a mound will get diarrhoea.
Francoise Foti has conducted research in two NT Aboriginal communities, Nauiyu Nambiyu (Daly River) and Elliott.
She records people consuming small quantities of termite mounds to deal with gastric disorders or after eating certain foods like yams, turtle or goannas.
Similarly, termite mound material is sometimes eaten during pregnancy or lactation as it contains iron and calcium.
So while they are special, the snowmen of the NT are not unique. They are simply another example of a human need to reinvent the world in our own image.
Lead author Claire Smith is Professor of Archaeology, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, at Flinders University.
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