Desert 'Fairy Circles' Made by ... Termites?

German scientist thinks he's solved the mystery

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 28, 2013 5:55 PM CDT
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via Email

(Newser) – It's kind of a let-down, if true. A German scientist says the mysterious "fairy circles" that have long cropped up in the desert of southwest Africa are caused by humble sand termites, reports Global Post. The critters live beneath the soil and thrive on grass roots, explains Norbert Juergens of the University of Hamburg in the journal Science. He says he found evidence of them at the origins of every barren circle, which can be up to 50 feet wide and last for decades.

The termites “match the beaver with regard to intensity of environmental change, but surpass it with regard to the spatial dimension of their impact," he writes. Another expert on the circles, Walter Tschinkel of Florida State, isn't buying it. Juergens "has made the common scientific error of confusing correlation (even very strong correlation) with causation," says his critique, reports the New York Times. Either way, local tour guides will probably stick with their explanation for the circles: They're caused by the breath of a dragon.

A so-called fairy circle in the Namibian desert.
A so-called "fairy circle" in the Namibian desert.   (Shutterstock)
« Prev« Prev | Next »Next » Slideshow
To report an error on this story, notify our editors.