Fairy circles, circular bare patches of land that dot the grasslands of Southwestern Africa, have been mystery to scientists for years. In an article published in the March issue of Science, German scientist Norbert Jürgens proposes that sand termites are the mysterious engineers behind the phenomenon. Much in the same way that beavers build dams to create favorable wet environments for themselves, Jürgens believes the termites create the circles to help the soil absorb water and maintain the grasslands (which the termites feed on) through extremely dry conditions. The termites create the circles by doing what they do best—eating. They feed on grass roots, killing the grass and forming the fairy circles. For more on Jürgens’ research, see this New York Times article.
photos by Norbert Jürgens