Doubtless you know about fairy circles, also called fairy rings. According to Wikipedia, they’re a “naturally occurring ring or arc of mushrooms. The rings may grow to over 10 metres (33 ft) in diameter, and they become stable over time as the fungus grows and seeks food underground.
“They are found mainly in forested areas, but also appear in grasslands or rangelands. Fairy rings are detectable by sporocarps in rings or arcs, as well as by a necrotic zone (dead grass), or a ring of dark green grass. If these manifestations are visible a fairy fungus mycelium is likely to be present in the ring or arc underneath.
“Fairy rings also occupy a prominent place in European folklore as the location of gateways into elfin kingdoms.”
But in Africa, there is a different kind of fairy circle that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with mushrooms.
Did you catch the article by Sindya Bhanoo in the NY Times?
“The grasslands of Namibia — and to a lesser extent its neighbors Angola and South Africa — are speckled with millions of mysterious bare spots called ‘fairy circles,’ their origins unknown.
“Now, a study based on several years of satellite images describes the circles’ life span as they appear, transform over decades, and then eventually disappear.
“Writing in the journal PLoS One, Walter R. Tschinkel, the study’s author and a biologist at Florida State University, reports that the circles can last 24 to 75 years.
“The circles, which range from about 6 to 30 feet in diameter, begin as bare spots on an otherwise continuous grass carpet; after a few years, taller grass starts to grow around the circle’s perimeter.”
The reader is left with the question, Are these circles gateways to elfin kingdoms? What kind of elves are in Namibia?
I don’t understand why scientists don’t investigate matters like that.
Update July 13, 2012: Asakiyume has been tracking down stories about African fairy circles. Read this.
Update March 30, 2013: NY Times has fingered a particular species of sand termites, Psammotermes alloceru. Read this.
Photograph: Walter R. Tschinkel
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