Termites Created Mysterious Desert Fairy Circles In Southern Africa, Says Scientist

By Staff Reporter on March 29, 2013 6:36 AM EDT

Scientists have solved the mystery behind the circular formation of grass with barren centers in the desert of Southwest Africa.

These so-called fairy circles have persisted for decades along a narrow strip of the Namib Desert between mid-Angola and northwestern South Africa. Until now, it was not known as to what created those mysterious circles. The indigenous Himba people in Namibia attributed it to divine intervention.

Earlier studies have proposed that termites created such bizarre circles, but scientists could not confirm it due to lack of evidence.

Like Us on Facebook

Now, botanist Norbert Juergens of Germany's University of Hamburg has found convincing evidence that the fairy circles were created by a particular sand termite species called Psammotermes allocerus. Juergens studied a strip of Namib Desert and found sand termites close to the barren centers inside the fairy circles.

Juergens examined the soil and measured the water content in the circles from 2006 to 2012. He noticed that more than 2 inches of water was stored in the top 39 inches (100 cm) of soil, even during the dry period, reports LiveScience.

Since there was no grass in the fairy circles to absorb the rainwater and evaporate it, water got collected in the porous soil, said Juergens. This helped the termites as well as the grass grown around the edge of the circles thrive, even during the dry season.

Juergens also found other termite species and sand ant species thriving in some sites which gets rain during the summer or the winter, but the sand termite Psammotermes allocerus was the only species found in all the spots studied by the researcher.

Juergens said that the termite's behavior was an example of ecosystem engineering. The study suggested that the termites appeared to damage young grass at their roots to form the fairy circles. However, Juergens has not explained as to why the termites formed circular-shaped patches, the LiveScience report said.

The findings of the study are published in the journal Science.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Join the Conversation

Sponsored From Around the Web

    ZergNet
Follow iScience Times
us on facebook RSS
 
us on google
 
Most Popular
INSIDE iScience Times
Do Dolphins Get High? BBC Cameras Catch Dolphins Chewing On Pufferfish Toxins
Do Dolphins Get High? BBC Cameras Catch Dolphins Chewing On Pufferfish Toxins
How Many Ways Can You Tie A Tie?
How Many Ways Can You Tie A Tie?
Ribbon Of Charged Particles At Solar System's Edge Acts Like A Wind Sock For Interstellar Magnetism
Ribbon Of Charged Particles At Solar System's Edge Acts Like A Wind Sock For Interstellar Magnetism
How to Turn Your Tap Water Faucet  Into a Coffee Spout [VIDEO]
How to Turn Your Tap Water Faucet Into a Coffee Spout [VIDEO]
Coolest Science Photos Of 2013: From Blobfish To Two-Headed Shark, Comet ISON To Mars Selfie
Coolest Science Photos Of 2013: From Blobfish To Two-Headed Shark, Comet ISON To Mars Selfie
This Is A Scientifically-Proven Rock-Paper-Scissors Winning Strategy (But If Your Opponent Uses It Too, It's A Draw)
This Is A Scientifically-Proven Rock-Paper-Scissors Winning Strategy (But If Your Opponent Uses It Too, It's A Draw)