The Namib is widely considered to be the world’s oldest desert and visiting this harsh, but fragile environment is definitely one for the bucket list.
A highlight for most travellers is floating above the desert wilderness in a colourful hot air balloon. The air is chilled, the silence eerie and the taste of coffee is still fresh in your mouth. The most obvious feature aside from the vastness is the endless assortment of near-perfect rings on the desert floor.Scientists and laymen have debated and argued for decades on the origins and mechanisms that create these decorations on the landscape. We’ve all seen the massive mounds that termites build in the savanna and might even have noticed the ring effect that is seen in a variety of other situations, some just a stone’sthrow from Cape Town.
The latest research has lifted the veil and shown that despite the presence of different species of termites, including one harvester termite, none are found associated with these ‘fairy rings’. It is in fact ANTS that are the creators, amongst them there are seed-harvesting ants, carnivorous ants and even a ‘farming’ ant which uses a sap-sucking bug that lives on grass roots.
This is not to say that all the questions have been answered – indeed there is a lot that is still not understood. The next time you encounter an insect in your garden or the kids ask about fairies, pause to appreciate that even in the year 2012, there is so much about these ‘lowly’ creatures that we do not understand. And if you happen to be floating along in silence and peering down to the desert six hundred metres below, enjoy the ride!