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Mystery 'fairy circles' stump scientists

Posted on Saturday, 30 June, 2012 | Comment icon 28 comments

Image credit: CC 3.0 Stephan Getzin

Nobody is able to explain the strange, bare circular patches that appear in the Nimibian grasslands.

Known as 'fairy circles', the mysterious circles of bare land seem to appear and then disappear again, often years later, for reasons that nobody is yet able to determine. The circles range in size from 2m across to as much as 12m across with some lasting as long as 75 years. The remote region in which the phenomenon occurs has made it difficult for researchers to investigate.

Biologist Walter Tschinkel has been trying to get to the bottom of the mystery since first encountering the circles while on Safari in 2005. Theories considered and ruled out include underground nests of harvester termites and types of plants able to draw resources towards them; but despite his best efforts nothing to date seems to satisfactorily explain what is creating them.

"In the sandy desert grasslands of Namibia in southern Africa, mysterious bare spots known as "fairy circles" will form and then disappear years later for no reason anyone can determine."

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 Source: Live Science

  Discuss: View comments (28)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #19 Posted by Junior Chubb on 2 July, 2012, 18:54 Cheers MadMike, the pictures half way down on the right are exactly what I see in my local grass/play areas. Ties in nicely with the Myths thread I was reading earlier.
Comment icon #20 Posted by the L on 2 July, 2012, 19:52
It probably is a type of fungus or insect,or maybe even gas bubbles ? but I still like the good old fairy circle story. Fungus or insects that destroy grass in circles. Thats new.
Comment icon #21 Posted by linttrap on 2 July, 2012, 19:55
Tschinkel does not offer any explanation for the Circles, but was able to rule out some previously offered ones. The most obvious explanation is a fungal or other microbial agent, as with Fairy Rings, but the growth pattern does not match this and no such agent could be found. Another popular explanation is a chemical agent, such as fumes from a subterranean hydrothermal seep, though again no such agent could be found. It has been suggested that the activities of ground-dwelling Termites might be responsible, but no connection between the Circles and Termites has been found. http://sciencythou... [More]
Comment icon #22 Posted by Sundew on 3 July, 2012, 0:30
A fungus is certainly a possibility, but there are also plants toxic to other plant species that use a chemical warfare of sorts. It is possible that this starts as a single grass seedling, that produces offsets. Many desert plants have clonal colonies that expand outward in a more or less circular pattern from a single pioneer. As the offsets expand outward from the center they leave behind a root system that either uses all the available moisture within the circle (in a semi-arid climate), preventing other seeds from germinating, or giving off toxins that stop all other species from germinat... [More]
Comment icon #23 Posted by WillSoMysterious on 3 July, 2012, 8:40
These 'Fairy circles' were apparntly created when JuniorChubb layed upon the grass and left his imprint.
Comment icon #24 Posted by Earl.Of.Trumps on 3 July, 2012, 23:34
fungus feels about right. I wonder if they ever tried to grow grass right in the middle of a circle? hmmm anyway the follwing makes a lot of sense to me: "That's science, isn't it?" Tschinkel said. "If you knew the answer ahead of time, it wouldn't be much fun." right, and if you knew all the answers you would not be here at UM. I like that
Comment icon #25 Posted by Junior Chubb on 3 July, 2012, 23:39
These 'Fairy circles' were apparntly created when JuniorChubb layed upon the grass and left his imprint. Cheers WillSoMysterious, are you also going to hold me responsible for all those missing pies?
Comment icon #26 Posted by WillSoMysterious on 4 July, 2012, 8:57
That's okay Junior Chubb my friend, as your name suggests, i certainly AM going to hold you responsible for all those missing pies. I have been working on an equation: Junior Chubb + Pies x amount of time divided by your usual diet = Missing pies.
Comment icon #27 Posted by Junior Chubb on 4 July, 2012, 9:44
That's okay Junior Chubb my friend, as your name suggests, i certainly AM going to hold you responsible for all those missing pies. I have been working on an equation: Junior Chubb + Pies x amount of time divided by your usual diet = Missing pies. (t ( jc + p )) / ud = mp If I wasn't so hungry I would argue against your equation...
Comment icon #28 Posted by Damian Bâthory on 18 July, 2012, 2:09
looks like my lawn, i got bare spots in it too, i should take care of it, or maybe look around for 'fairies'.. Ain't seen fairies yet, but alot of Raccoons... Perhaps Black Sabbath were right in their song "Fairies Wear Boots"...they leave big

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