A mystery that has captured scientists for decades may have finally been solved in Australia, and the answer was there all along. The help of indigenous knowledge may have finally helped solve the scientific mystery of how these fairy circles came to be in the Australian deserts.
To begin with, a fairy circle is a ring from a natural landscape. In more temperate climates, they are usually identified by a circle of mushrooms that, according to European folklore, are where supernatural beings live. However, in a desert climate like Australia, they are more like polka dots of bare earth that are scattered across the landscape. Scientists first discovered these ‘fairy circles’ in the 1970s, which sparked a massive debate about the natural wonder. They range from six feet to about 40 feet in diameter. What were these things? How did they come to be? What is the meaning behind these circles in nature? According to The Guardian, ethnoecologist Fiona Walsh said, “Scientists concluded they came about from plants competing for water and nutrients.” However, there’s a competing theory that is pushing this one out.
Martu elder Gladys Bidu told The Guardian that these circles are actually called linyji, and termites live in the ground beneath them. She told the publication, “I learnt this from my old people and have seen it myself many times.” So, this naturally occurring phenomenon is a habitat. She also told The Guardian, “We gathered and ate the Warturnuma [flying termites] that flew from linyji.” Now researchers are beginning to understand that these circles don’t have a connection with water and nutrients - they are the home to a species. Fiona Walsh said, “We saw similarities between the patterns in Aboriginal art and aerial views of the pavements and found paintings that have deep and complex stories about the activities of termites and termite ancestors.” The scientists dug into the ground and indeed found termite chambers. They also were able to learn about the breeding patterns of the termites through local knowledge.
This is a major development in a once-unsolved mystery. Now, scientists can learn more about the region and its inhabitants. To learn more about the research, follow this link.