Illusion Unveiled: Deceptive “Snakes” Hiding in Tree Aren’t What They Seem

to astonish.

My curiosity was piqued when I stumbled upon images of three “angry snakes” lurking in a tree. I wasn’t alone in being deceived by these incredible photographs. The sight of a single serpent in a tree can be unnerving, but the presence of three coiled together can send shivers down anyone’s spine. However, to our relief, the attention-grabbing images do not actually depict snakes. They reveal something entirely different.

Twitter / Rob

Nature is a treasure trove of biodiversity, housing millions of distinct species across the globe. Each of these species plays a unique role in maintaining the delicate balance within its ecosystem.

Moreover, the natural world boasts an array of astonishing adaptations and survival strategies. Insects, for instance, employ camouflage to blend seamlessly into their surroundings, evading potential predators. Some animals have even developed toxic substances for self-defense against adversaries.

Twitter / Rob

The phenomenon I mentioned earlier, showcasing three enraged “snakes” in images circulating on the internet, sheds light on the aforementioned marvels. In 2021, a photo shared on Twitter by Rob Allam left users puzzled as it seemed to exhibit three wrathful “serpents” hidden in a tree. However, it didn’t take long for people to realize that there was more to this spectacle than meets the eye.

As it turns out, the trio of “snakes” is nothing more than an optical illusion created by a section of wings belonging to two distinct moth species—the Atlas moth.


This remarkable moth species, native to the forests of Asia, possesses a unique ability to mimic the appearance of a snake. With an impressive wingspan of up to 24 cm (9.4 in) and a wing surface area of approximately 160 cm² (≈25 in²), the Atlas moth ranks among the largest species of Lepidoptera.

The body of the Atlas moth is considerably smaller in proportion to its wings, creating a striking contrast in size. It was first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758 and is renowned as one of the largest insects on Earth. Its name, derived from Atlas, the Titan of Greek mythology, aptly reflects its substantial size.

Wikipedia Commons / Nevit Dilmen

When Rob shared the viral picture on Twitter, he accompanied it with an explanation: “Attacus Atlas is one of the largest butterflies worldwide, and during its adult stage, it lives 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 people on social media initially found it difficult to believe that the creature in question was, in fact, a moth.

“That disguise is really impressive,” one user remarked.

Wikipedia Commons / Alias 0591

Another user expressed surprise, saying, “How is that top one not an actual snake? This moth would live longer if it didn’t resemble something I want to swat with a broom.”

Contrary to expectations, Atlas moths are weak and unsteady fliers. To conserve their energy, they prefer to rest during the daytime and become active flyers at night. When they feel threatened, these moths deploy a defense mechanism by descending to the ground and performing a writhing motion while simultaneously flapping their wings deliberately, mimicking the appearance of a snake’s head, as reported by the National History Museum.

Wikipedia Commons / Maghdp

To witness the awe-inspiring presence of the Atlas moth firsthand, one would likely need to visit the tropical forests of Asia. However, there have been documented sightings of Atlas moths in certain regions of Europe and the United States as well.

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