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Namibia’s fairy circles: One of Nature’s Riveting Mysteries?

An Unexplained Perplexity

When we think about the mysterious and unknown tales of the African continent we often spring to ancient cultural customs like the blood drinking Maasai or the adventures of European exploration through the vast jungles and rivers of central Africa. There are other  beautiful mysteries that Africa  offers that have nothing to with it’s cultures, customs or adventures. They are known has “Fairy Circles”, curious circles that are created on in the southeastern part of the continent in the Namib desert in Namibia. Folklore of this phenomenon from the Himba people of the region tells of them being created by mighty spiritual beings. As the myth goes, Fairy circles were created by their god, Mukuru, and that they are “footprints of the gods” walking around the earth…

See Also : Himba: Unique fashion of Namibia’s red women

Another tale from the Himba is that they were created by a dragon living inside the earth. The dead patches within circle were caused by his poisonous breath from beneath the surface. These circles have been studied to be as little as 6 feet wide to over 40 feet in diameter with a life span of 25-75 years.

Thorsten Becker / Wiki

Thorsten Becker / Wiki

Theories and Research

These circles have been studied to be as little as 6 feet wide to over 40 feet in diameter with a life span of 25-75 years. Scientists have disagreed as to the actual determination of the occurrence of these fairy circles to this day. Most have argued that it is due to a battle between different plant life’s struggling for positioning in the arid desert. Speculation as to the causes is that one ring consists of two different grass species. One lives on the inner part and a second species on the outer part of the ring.

Thorsten Becker / Wiki

Thorsten Becker / Wiki

There was also research done that suggested a species of termite causes the rings. This termite lives below the surface feasting on the roots of the grass causing the barren patches of land as moisture is pushed to the outer perimeter of the patch of grass. Unlike the most termite species, these termites nest differently than other species because they do not built the typical mounds or nests above ground, but rather live underground and move from to different sites creating new circles as they search for moisture and new food sources. Both theories have strong evidence to state their case, but an agreement has not been made as to which is the true cause.

See Also : The Mursi of Ethiopia: One of Africa’s Most Captivating Cultures

Round About

The fairy circles of Namibia have been a mystery to scientists for over 40 years. The theories explored in this article are still contested amongst each other. Whether it’s a battle between plant life, termites or the gods of the Himba tribe, the “fairy circles” are still a mystery to the world. Despite being a mystery, The Himba people have found a use for them one the recently expired or dead circles. They have been found to fence in the circles and tie young calves in to protect them from lions and other dangerous predators while giving the cattle a source of food. In recent years scientists have been puzzled about a new location of fairy circles. Before we can jump to conclusions about a theory, one fact to take into consideration about the difficulty of finding the causality of the circles is where more of them have been discovered, not in Africa, but in Australia.


[Header image] –   Thorsten Becker / Wiki 
References :
Ward, D. (2009) The Biology of deserts.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.
– Fairy Circles, Long a Mystery in Africa, Now Found in Australia
Rachel Nuwer –

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