You Can’t Unsee It

Can you see this moth?

Look real carefully.

No? How ’bout a different one, same species, just from a slightly different angle.


It’s like one of those Magic Eye things in real life. You know, those psychedelic picture books where you stare at a bunch of swirly dots until it becomes a 3D dolphin. Or it gives you a headache. Or drives you insane. I hear kids are better at those than adults, and it gets harder to see the older you get.

I’ve mentioned before how tropical insects take camouflage to the next level. Moths, crickets, katydids, and others can mimic the color, texture, and even the outline of substrates. It doesn’t help that most surfaces here are rough and pitted with crevices, perfect places for something to lie low and disappear. Stare long enough at any patch of bark or moss and chances are, it’ll sprout legs and crawl off.

Of course, some bugs cheat and just go full transparent.

This, combined with the fact that many, many, many species of insects here are either, A) poisonous, B) venomous, or C) just plain nasty, can cause a kind of paranoia regarding all surfaces. Or at least a general sense of unease. Nothing is safe! You can never be sure! It’s bad enough trying to find a place to sit or lean on that isn’t covered with visible bugs–ants and spiders and centipedes–but what about the invisible ones?

I’ve seen people stand perfectly upright, arms at their sides, for hours on end in the jungle, afraid to lay a hand on anything in case it turned out to be mobile. And these people weren’t always newbies either–surface paranoia tends to affect long-termers more, those who have learned not to trust their own eyes.

I see bugs everywhere. Does that make me crazy, or does that make me the only sane one?

I try to make it into a challenge. Those moths above? They were in a grove of palms, and had matched themselves perfectly to patches of lichen. It wasn’t until our guide pointed them out that I realized that each tree of that species was speckled with dozens of giant moths. We were surrounded. It was a game to see who could find the most.

But I did start to get a headache after a while. I’m getting too old for this.

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