No termites have ever been observed creating the formations. Fairy circles are barren patches of dirt, usually surrounded by a dense ring of vegetation.
They can reach 50 feet in diameter, can last for up to 75 years and are most common in Namibia.
Since prehistoric times, the indigenous Himba people have attributed the rings to a higher power.
Now researchers from Germany’s Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research say the uniform distribution of the circles on such a large scale couldn’t possibly be the work of a typically erratic and frenzied species such as the termite.
Writing in the journal Ecography, Stephan Getzin says that natural competition for water on the edge of an arid ecosystem, where grasslands transition to desert, causes the circles.
“We consider this at present being the most convincing explanation,” Getzin concluded.
Photo: Stephan Getzin - UFZ