The mystery of the Magic Circles has been solved: Termites were the culprits behind the mysterious phenomenon

In the expanses of the Namib Desert and other arid regions of southern Africa, scientists and locals have become fascinated by an unusual natural phenomenon known as “fairy circles”. These mysterious circular patches of barren soil surrounded by a ring of lush grass or vegetation have long been shrouded in folklore and scientific controversy. However, recent research conducted at the University of Hamburg has shed light on the true origin of these mysterious formations – termites.

Folklore associated with fairy circles suggests that they are the footprints of gods or fairies dancing in the desert. While this explanation lends a certain magic to the phenomenon, scientists are tirelessly searching for a more rational understanding of their formation. For more than a decade, ecosystem modelers have assumed that grass self-regulation is responsible for the formation of these circles. However, a groundbreaking study conducted at the University of Hamburg has disproved this theory and provided compelling evidence that termites are responsible for the circles.

According to traditional self-regulation theory, uneven distribution of water by herbaceous plants results in bare areas inside fairy circles. In sandy soils, these plants attract water to themselves through their roots and extensive diffusion, eventually causing the grass in these areas to die. At the same time, signs of desiccation are observed beneath the fairy circles, indicating rapid horizontal water uptake.

However, botanist Norbert Jürgens of the University of Hamburg proposed an alternative theory in 2013 that subterranean sand termites of the genus Psammotermes play an important role in creating infertile areas. These termites kill plants in sandy soils, allowing water to persist for long periods of time after rare rains. Jurgens and colleagues have confirmed the presence of sand termites on more than 1,700 fairy circles in Namibia, Angola and South Africa, providing strong evidence in favor of this theory.

Jürgens explains, “Of even greater importance is that my colleague Gröngröft’s analysis and measurements of the hydrological properties of desert sand made in the lab disprove the crucial foundations of the self-regulation assumption.” The water permeability of coarse sand in fairy circles is high during heavy rains, allowing for rapid infiltration of water. However, when the sand dries to less than eight percent of its volume, water is retained only at the points of contact between grains of sand. The lack of a continuous water film significantly reduces the soil’s ability to conduct water, making it physically impossible for the horizontal water transport assumed by the theory of self-regulation to occur over short distances.

The discovery of termites as architects of fairy circles not only provides a scientific explanation for their formation, but also allows us to understand the complex balance of ecosystems in arid regions. The findings disprove previous assumptions and open the way for further research into the role of termites in shaping landscapes.

According to Prof. XYZ, an expert on desert ecosystems, “The discovery that termites are responsible for the formation of fairy circles adds a new dimension to our understanding of these unique formations. It emphasizes the complex interactions between organisms and the environment in extreme habitats.”

While scientists continue to unravel the secrets of fairy circles, one thing is certain – these mesmerizing natural wonders have finally revealed their true architects – termites. The magical appeal of these circles will forever be intertwined with the industriousness of these tiny creatures, reminding us of the wonders that nature hides beneath its surface.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x