Scientists May Have Finally Solved The Mystery Behind Desert ‘Fairy Circles’

After studying fairy circles found in western Australia, scientists may have finally cracked the mystery behind these enigmatic formations.

After studying fairy circles found in western Australia, scientists may have finally cracked the mystery behind these enigmatic formations.

Scientists have published intriguing new research which may have finally solved the long-standing mystery of the strange fairy circles that can be found scattered from the deserts of Australia to the Namib Desert in southern Africa. These orange splotches in the desert were not created by termites, as has previously been suggested.

According to Live Science, there have been many theories put forward by scientists about these desert fairy circles. From termite nests to plant activity to a combination of both of these, no definitive answer has been forthcoming.

However, we may be a little closer to the truth now, after a new study has proclaimed that these fairy circles do not stem from anything living — knocking termites and plants right out of the picture.

Instead, scientists have now suggested that desert fairy circles are formed by rainfall and evaporation, and that these splotches in the desert are simply a reaction to nature.

As study researcher Stephan Getzin of the University of Göttingen in Germany explained, while there have been cases where termites were found to have nested within these circles, scientists have so far not discovered any proof that these nests were the actual cause of the desert fairy circles, as Eureka Alert reports.

“Overall, our study shows that termite constructions can occur in the area of the fairy circles, but the partial local correlation between termites and fairy circles has no causal relationship. So no destructive mechanisms, such as those from termites, are necessary for the formation of the distinct fairy circle patterns; hydrological plant-soil interactions alone are sufficient.”

To get to the bottom of fairy circles, Getzin and fellow researchers examined ones found in western Australia, close to the town of Newman in the Pilbara region.

To begin with, drones were first used to provide an aerial view of the circles below. Scientists then took 48 different samples of these circles, traveling at a distance of 7.4 miles to make certain that they had excavated a large and diverse enough sample of these circles.

After analyzing drone photos of the desert fairy circles, scientists compared these with aerial shots taken of harvester termite nests.

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As Getzin noted, “The vegetation gaps caused by harvester termites are only about half the size of the fairy circles and much less ordered.”

The biggest surprise that scientists discovered when excavating these fairy circles was just how much clay and compacted soil was in them. This is when researchers finally hit upon the truth, which is that these circles were most likely formed by heavy rains and the evaporation that eventually followed.

With these heavy rains pushing clay into spots in the soil, a thick “crust” eventually formed, making it impossible for vegetation to grow. This process likely is responsible for creating the appearance of fairy circles.

The new study — which details the findings of desert fairy circles studied in Australia — has been published in The Ecological Society of America.