Think You’re Seeing Angry Snakes? Time To Take a Closer Look
Surfing the internet means navigating past hundreds of images a day. Most of the time, we take a close look at something and just keep scrolling. Every now and then, though, there are images that you can mistake for something else if you scroll by too quickly.
The image above is a great example of this. At first, everyone sees angry snakes peering out at them. But the longer you stare, the more you’ll notice how Mother Nature is playing a trick on you. Just what are you really seeing, and what should you know about this strange creature? Keep reading to find out!
A surprising image goes viral
The original image is courtesy of Rob Allam. In 2021, he went to Twitter to share this picture. And the picture quickly went viral thanks to its ability to surprise and confound those who saw it.
And it’s not hard to see why: outside of movies or video games, angry snakes don’t just gather together like this. It was clear that there was more to this image than meets the eye. In fact, while there are living creatures involved, the shocking truth is that there are no actual snakes in this image whatsoever!
Seeing past the illusion
If these aren’t angry snakes sitting in a tree, then what the heck have you been staring at for the past couple of minutes? You are actually looking at two different species of atlas moths. And in this case, the picture is taken at the perfect angle to confuse you.
The main part of what you are looking at is the wings of two different moths. These creatures are very large on their own (more on this soon), but when you only see part of them, especially from a distance, it can be difficult to tell what you are seeing. In this case, the wings from two different moths managed to make thousands of Twitter users think they were looking at angry snakes!
What are atlas moths?
Atlas moths are quite big: their wingspan reaches 27 centimeters across. Because of that, these beautiful critters are known as some of the largest insects on the entire planet!
Obviously, “largest” is relative when it comes to insects. However, considering that the wingspan of an atlas moth is larger than your hand, it’s a safe bet that you’d consider these guys very large if you encountered them in the wild. If such an encounter happened, you might just get to see the elaborate mimicry these insects have mastered.
Their defense goes beyond simple camouflage
One of the stranger things about these giant moths is that they don’t fly around all that much. Instead, they spend a fair amount of time on the ground. And that means they’ve cooked up some defensive strategies that go beyond the somewhat scary camouflage of their wings.
To really pull their act off, these moths will fall to the ground when they sense danger. While there, they flap their wings and writhe their bodies, creating the appearance of a snake’s head in motion. And human or animal, almost everyone knows to leave snakes alone when they are moving, so this defensive strategy helps atlas moths keep would-be predators at bay.
Named after giants
Remember when we said that size was relative in the insect world? You might not consider your hands giant, but they are certainly big to a common housefly. And since the wingspan of these moths is larger than your hand, humans and insects alike look at these critters as very, very large. Because of that, they have a name worthy of their solid stature.
In this case, the “atlas” in “atlas moth” comes from the Greek mythological character Atlas. One of the chief characteristics of Atlas is that he was a Titan, meaning that he towered over everyone else as a giant. To this day, we still use “titanic” as a way of describing something as very large, and we named these moths after the king of the Titans as a way of honoring just how big they really are.
Shocking appearances from the moths
Atlas moths are a big deal when they appear, and there is a simple reason for that. Basically, their appearances are so few and far between that it’s always a shocking surprise when they show up!
For example, a photographer captured evidence of an atlas moth in Bellevue, Washington, and this was the first known sighting in the United States. That pales in comparison to a wild story from 2012 when an atlas moth was sighted in the UK in the town of Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester. When the family first caught sight of the creature, they had no idea it was a moth. Thanks to its great size, they thought it must have been a bat that had decided to sit on their windowsill!