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Mystery of the African Crop Circles Solved

Crop Circles

In many places around the world crop circles appear and for which different explanations are offered. Similar circles appear in the Namib Desert. Research has shown these to be caused by sand-dwelling termites.

For many years people have pondered over the so-called ‘fairy circles’ in the Namib Desert. Fairy circles are circular barren patches of land, typically found in the grasslands of the western part of Southern Africa, according to the BBC. The circles are to be found in a band about 100 miles inland, stretching south from Angola for about 1,500 miles. Studies, the Daily Telegraph noted, have shown that these circles are under continually changing, lasting for between 30 to 60 years, and growing to between 2 to 12 meters in diameter.

A fairy circle in the grasslands of Namibia

A fairy circle in the grasslands of Namibia

There has been considerable debate, outside of folklore, as to the cause of the circles. The latest research indicates that the sand termite, Psammotermes allocerus is responsible for the creation of the circles.

Psammotermes Allocerus Termite

Psammotermes Allocerus Termite

This is based on research undertaken by Norbert Jürgens of the University of Hamburg in Germany, according to the New York Times. This is based on the termite being the only creature to be present when several hundred circles were studied. It also stands that the circles occur only in sandy soil, not where clay predominates (sandy areas are where termites are most likely to live). The termites are based deep beneath the soil.

It is thought that the termites unintentionally engineer the circles by eating the roots of grasses, creating a bald patch that becomes the ring’s center. The continual process prevents new grass from forming.

Fairy Circles

Dozen of little “fairy” circles in the desert

The findings have been published in the journal Science in an article titled “The Biological Underpinnings of Namib Desert Fairy Circles.”

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.