Scientists Solve The Mystery Of These Strange Circles In African Deserts

Fairy circles Namibia

The Fairy Circles of Namibia are in fact, such patches in the grasslands of the Namib Desert where vegetation does not grow. It has been a mystery for years that how and why these circles are formed. A new theory by researchers at University of Strathclyde and Princeton University may provide the answer to this mystery.

The fairy circles extend for 1500 miles across Africa. Each of these bald spots ranges from 6.6 to 115 feet in diameter. The fairy spots that look like craters have inspired dozens of mythical stories of dragons and UFOs.

Source: New Scientist

These strange structures, surrounded by grass, are arranged in honeycomb-like patterns. Various theories have suggested the reasons as the plant competition for limited water or termite colonies. The new research published in the journal Nature suggests that both the termite colonies and the limited water are jointly responsible for the phenomenon.

Source: Discover Wildlife

The findings of this research combine the two leading theories that were widely accepted in the scientific circles. The honeycomb patterns look so uniform that the researchers ran simulations on satellite images of social insect nests taken from four continents. The models built as a result of these simulations concluded that a colony of termites would expand its territory outward in search of food and water until it encounters another colony. The battle that results from this encounter wipes out the smaller colony. If the colonies are the same size, they coexist with a border between them. These distant colonies then result in bald patches without vegetation.

This theory explains how the patches occur. But why is the grass around these thicker than other places?

Plants have a tendency to organize themselves in clumps. The plants in the clump help by shading each other and concentrating soil moisture. Any plants outside this clump can not compete well due to the termites keeping them away. This phenomenon results in the plants surrounding the fairy circles to be healthier.

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