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8 Cool Natural Earth Illusions

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Wikimedia Commons

A phenomenon called pareidolia is what makes us interpret random stimuli as something meaningful—for example, believing a grilled cheese sandwich resembles the Virgin Mary and is suddenly worth $28,000. In less extreme versions, the phenomenon simply makes us recognize faces and familiar shapes in random shapes. But even if you know that the resulting illusion carries no deeper meaning, they're still fun to look at. Here are 8 fantastic examples of the phenomenon in nature.

Special thanks to Moillusions.com, which features one of the best illusion collections on the net.

1. The Sleeping Indian

Sheep Mountain in Wyoming (above) goes by the far more descriptive name of “The Sleeping Indian” when viewed from the nearby Jackson Hole valley. The mountain looks like an Indian chief with a full head dress lying on his back.

2. The Dinosaur Lake

This brachiosaurus-shaped lake can be found in Zagreb, Croatia. If you want to find it for yourself in Google Maps, use the latitude and longitude of 45.78231 N, 16.024332 E.

3. The Dragon of Alberta

If you happen to be visiting a farm in Medicine Hat, Alberta, be sure to check your location on Google Earth. Who knows, you could be standing right in the mouth of this gorgeous plot of land naturally shaped like a dragon. Find it for yourself on Google at 50°01'45.29 N, 110°13'20.59 W.

4. The Badlands Guardian

One of the most famous Google Earth illusions, the Badlands Guardian was discovered in 2006 by Lynn Hickox at 50°0'38.20"N 110°6'48.32"W. While the chief and his headdress are all natural, humans have added one fitting touch to his appearance—the line that looks like an earbud attached to his ear is actually a road to an oil well. Interestingly, although the image appears to be a small mountain range when viewed on Google, it is actually a valley.

5. The Old Man of the Mountain

This is the only rock formation on this list that you can no longer go see, as the rocks that made up the face of the “Old Man” collapsed in 2003. The illusion, located on Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire, was first noted in 1805 and became the state emblem in 1945. Fans of the rock formation are working to create a memorial monument at the base of the mountain.

6. The Apache Head in the Rocks

Those who regret not getting to see the Old Man of the Mountain while it was still standing can console themselves by seeing one of the many similar rock formations located around the globe. The Apache Head in the Rocks located in Ebihens, France, is always a great alternative.

7. The Alien in the Desert

This one isn’t as clear as many of the others, but with its massive head and eyes paired with a tiny mouth and chin, this face shape in the desert looks a lot like the stereotypical description of alien visitors. Fittingly, this alien head illusion can be found just outside of Area 51 in Nevada, giving conspiracy theorists even more evidence that “they” are among us—even if only in the sand.

You can find this one on Google maps at 37°13'31.37 N, 115°53'27.06 W, but be warned—the face is upside down on the map.

8. Mother Nature Crying

It’s easy to imagine Mother Nature crying after all the pain she’s suffered throughout the years, which is why Michael Nolan’s gorgeous image of a weeping face in a glacier immediately makes people think of Mother Nature. In the photographer’s own words, “This is how one would imagine Mother Nature would express her sentiments about our inability to reduce global warming. It seemed an obvious place for her to appear, on a retreating ice shelf, crying.”

We’ve all seen animals and faces in clouds and mountains, but do any of you know of more striking examples of natural illusions like the ones seen here?

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This Just In
Criminal Gangs Are Smuggling Illegal Rhino Horns as Jewelry
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Valuable jewelry isn't always made from precious metals or gems. Wildlife smugglers in Africa are increasingly evading the law by disguising illegally harvested rhinoceros horns as wearable baubles and trinkets, according to a new study conducted by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

As BBC News reports, TRAFFIC analyzed 456 wildlife seizure records—recorded between 2010 and June 2017—to trace illegal rhino horn trade routes and identify smuggling methods. In a report, the organization noted that criminals have disguised rhino horns in the past using all kinds of creative methods, including covering the parts with aluminum foil, coating them in wax, or smearing them with toothpaste or shampoo to mask the scent of decay. But as recent seizures in South Africa suggest, Chinese trafficking networks within the nation are now concealing the coveted product by shaping horns into beads, disks, bangles, necklaces, and other objects, like bowls and cups. The protrusions are also ground into powder and stored in bags along with horn bits and shavings.

"It's very worrying," Julian Rademeyer, a project leader with TRAFFIC, told BBC News. "Because if someone's walking through the airport wearing a necklace made of rhino horn, who is going to stop them? Police are looking for a piece of horn and whole horns."

Rhino horn is a hot commodity in Asia. The keratin parts have traditionally been ground up and used to make medicines for illnesses like rheumatism or cancer, although there's no scientific evidence that these treatments work. And in recent years, horn objects have become status symbols among wealthy men in countries like Vietnam.

"A large number of people prefer the powder, but there are those who use it for lucky charms,” Melville Saayman, a professor at South Africa's North-West University who studies the rhino horn trade, told ABC News. “So they would like a piece of the horn."

According to TRAFFIC, at least 1249 rhino horns—together weighing more than five tons—were seized globally between 2010 and June 2017. The majority of these rhino horn shipments originated in southern Africa, with the greatest demand coming from Vietnam and China. The product is mostly smuggled by air, but routes change and shift depending on border controls and law enforcement resources.

Conservationists warn that this booming illegal trade has led to a precipitous decline in Africa's rhinoceros population: At least 7100 of the nation's rhinos have been killed over the past decade, according to one estimate, and only around 25,000 remain today. Meanwhile, Save the Rhino International, a UK-based conservation charity, told BBC News that if current poaching trends continue, rhinos could go extinct in the wild within the next 10 years.

[h/t BBC News]

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environment
How Japan's 'Dancing' Cats Predicted a Deadly Environmental Disaster
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In the 1950s, residents of Minamata, Japan, noticed that something was wrong with the city's cats. As the SciShow's Hank Green recounts in the video below, the cats would convulse, make strange noises and jerking "dancing" motions—and eventually die. Soon, these symptoms spread to the local townspeople, and scientists began searching for the cause of the terrifying sickness.

The culprit was soon revealed to be the Chisso Corporation, a Japanese chemical company with a factory in Minamata. About 30 years earlier, the company had begun making an organic chemical called acetaldehyde, using mercury as a catalyst to trigger the needed reactions. Afterwards, the company dumped the leftover chemicals into Minamata Bay, where the mercury came into contact with bacteria that transformed it into the most noxious form of the metal: methylmercury. This toxic substance was absorbed by plants, which were in turn eaten by fish. Eventually, the methylmercury made its way up the food chain and poisoned both felines and humans. Birth defects became rampant, and more than 900 people died. Thousands of victims have since been identified. The neurological syndrome caused by extreme mercury poisoning is now known as Minamata disease.

You can learn more about the worst mercury poisoning disaster the world has ever seen by watching the video below.

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