Southwest Africa’s Namib Desert is an arid landscape home to ostriches, leopards and other large animals. But a few of its more petite inhabitants are the makers of these huge desert circles that measure between 6.5 to 40 feet diameter. Biologist Norbert Juergens (University of Hamburg), who had been working to unlock the mystery, noticed that whenever he looked closely at the barren centers of fairy circles, he would also find sand termites (Psammotermes allocerus).
He found that without grass readily available to absorb rainwater and the release it back into the air (evaporation), any available water would collect in the porous, sandy soil. This water supply would keep the termites alive and active, even during the harshest days of the dry season. He also noticed that the root of the local plants had been chewed and that the areas in and around the circles showed traces of underground tunnels—all signs that the sand termites had been inhabiting the area.
Just like we recently witnessed with Japan’s underwater “crop circles”, nature’s tiny creatures are some of the world’s greatest artists.
Photos by Norbert Juergens