Angry-looking ‘snakes’ spotted lurking in tree, everything is not as it seems

The natural world is a treasure trove of incredible and captivating species. It’s fascinating to see how organisms interact with each other and adapt to survive in their environments. Recently, I stumbled upon some images of three “angry snakes” hiding in a tree, and I couldn’t help but be intrigued. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who was fooled by these extraordinary pictures.

The incredible phenomenon of countless species coexisting in nature is known as biodiversity. Each species plays a unique role in maintaining the balance of its ecosystem. What’s even more astonishing is the adaptations and survival techniques animals and plants have developed over time. Some insects have evolved camouflage colors to blend seamlessly into their surroundings and elude predators, while others have developed toxic compounds to protect themselves.

Back in 2021, a photo shared by Rob Allam on Twitter caused quite a stir. It depicted three angry-looking “serpents” hiding in a tree, leaving users perplexed. However, it didn’t take long for them to realize that there was more to the story than meets the eye.

Contrary to their snake-like appearance, the trio in the picture are not snakes at all. They are actually just parts of the wings from two different species of the Atlas moth, creating an optical illusion. These amazing Asian forest-dwelling insects have the astonishing ability to mimic the appearance of snakes. With a wingspan that can reach up to 24 cm (9.4 in) and a wing surface area of over 160 cm2 (25 in2), the Atlas moth is one of the largest species of Lepidoptera.

The body of the Atlas moth is noticeably smaller than its wings, making it one of the largest insects on Earth. Its name originated from the Greek mythological Titan Atlas. Notably, the adult stage of the Atlas moth spans only two weeks, during which its primary objective is to lay eggs and protect them. That’s where the snake-like camouflage comes into play.

Rob, the Twitter user who shared the trending image, provided a simple explanation: “Attacus Atlas is among the largest butterflies worldwide, and during its adult stage, it lives only for a brief span of two weeks. Its primary objective during this stage is to lay eggs and safeguard them until they hatch, all the while camouflaging itself as a snake.”

Many social media users found it hard to believe that the creature in question was actually a moth. One user commented, “That disguise is really good,” while another expressed surprise, exclaiming, “How’s that top one not an actual snake? This moth would live longer if it didn’t look like I wanted to beat it with a broom!”

Contrary to popular belief, Atlas moths are not strong flyers. They prefer to rest during the day and conserve their energy for active flight at night. When they sense danger, they employ a unique defense strategy: they drop to the ground, squirm, and flap their wings to resemble a snake’s head.

Experiencing the awe-inspiring presence of an Atlas moth would likely require a trip to the tropical forests of Asia. However, there have been reported sightings of Atlas moths in other parts of Europe and the United States. In a fascinating incident reported by the BBC in 2012, an Atlas moth was found on a windowsill in Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester. Its size was so immense that the family initially mistook it for a bat. Sadly, the moth passed away shortly after its discovery.

In another historic occurrence, an Atlas moth was photographed in Bellevue, Washington, in July 2022. This marked the first known sighting of this species in the United States. Another sighting took place in Sweden during the same year.

Sven Spichiger, the managing entomologist for the state Agriculture Department, described the Atlas moth as a “gee-whiz” type of insect due to its impressive size. He added, “Even if you aren’t on the lookout for insects, this is the type that people get their phones out and take a picture of — they are that striking.”

If I were fortunate enough to encounter this magnificent insect, I would be filled with awe and surprise. My immediate instinct would be to capture the moment with my camera, while ensuring I maintain a safe distance if its appearance starts to resemble that of a snake’s head.

Let’s spread the word about this extraordinary moth by sharing this post on Facebook. More people deserve to learn about its exceptional qualities and the rarity of its occurrence outside its natural habitat!