The science and folklore of fairy rings

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ringsWORLD – Let’s talk fairy rings, also known around the world as: fairy circles, elf rings or pixie rings. Whatever you want to call them, they include a ring of greener grass, then dead grass, followed by a ring of mushrooms.

According to folklore there’s a multitude of causes, among them the rings are formed by fairies dancing, a dragon’s fiery tail or where the devil churns milk.

In reality, there’s no magic or mystery, the rings are formed by fungi — specifically mycelium growing beneath the soil then sprouting in the form of mushrooms.

Fairy circles in Africa are different though.

Norbert Juergens, a botanist from the University of Hamburg, recently suggested the rings are formed by ‘psammotermes allocerus’ — sand termites — because it’s the only creature always there when the circles are forming. Juergens believes sand termites navigate in circles, feeding on plant roots which slowly form a ring. Not everyone agrees and suggests Juergens’ theory has holes in it.

Looks like we’re back to blaming the fairies.