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Scientists Have Figured What’s Making those Circles in the Namib Desert

Africa’s fairy circles in grasslands are formed by a plant that releases a toxic sap into the soil when it dies, a new study reveals. This poisonous sap, which is used by local bushmen to dip the tips of their hunting arrows, comes from the Euphorbia species of plants. Researchers say Euphorbia is responsible for bare circular patches in the ground, which are scattered throughout the grassy desert of Namibia and have puzzled the scientific community for decades. Between southern Angola and northern South Africa, there are hundreds of thousands of fairy circles, ranging in diameter from seven to 50 feet (2-15 metres). Two species of Euphorbia – E. damarana, E. gummifera, and possibly other species like E. gregaria – release the water-repelling sap when they die, inhibiting the growth of other grassy plants and creating barren, featureless circles, experts reveal. Euphorbia death, and therefore the creation of fairy circles, is exacerbated by increasing temperatures, they add. Fairy circles are barren patches of land which can be found across the Namib Desert in southern Africa. They can be seven to 50 feet in diameter, are found in the region’s arid grassland on sandy soils. The breakthrough study of fairy circles has been conducted by researchers from the University of Pretoria, South Africa and ITMO University in Saint Petersburg, Russia.