Monday, June 4, 2018

Another vaguely Missing 411-flavored essay:  What lurks in the forest primeval that might snatch away unsuspecting hikers?


Fortean philosopher John Michell, in his book Natural Likeness, notes that many moths have dull, bark-colored wings which blend in with the brown, gray, and shadowed surroundings of a thick forest.  However, these insects flash open their wings when frightened or disturbed, revealing large, round, yellow-ringed spots that resemble staring eyes.  These “eyes”, combined with the moths’ thorax and head, form the illusion of a face, a protective adaptation particularly noticeable in the Eyed Hawkmoth’s “nightmare animal’s face complete with fur and snout.”  This “face” frightens off birds that would otherwise snap up the harmless insects.

It is taken for granted that this is a form of natural mimicry, the moths having evolved to resemble the harsh stare of predatory owls.  However, when attacked or startled, owls open their eyes to reveal bright yellow rings, as if they are mimicking something even more frightful.  Michell writes:  “it is not necessary to conclude that one of these creatures has been designed by natural selection to mimic the other.”  It is possible that owls as well as moths are mimicking something else, the countenance of some “universal symbol of terror,” “the glaring bogey-men” that little children believe lurk in dark woods.

What is this ur-creature that insects and owls imitate?  Something like West Virginia’s “Mothman”, with its vast wingspan and burning, hypnotic gaze?  Or perhaps it is some entirely unknown monster, but one simultaneously ancient and omnipresent, an archetypal terror feared instinctively by birds, animals, and humans alike – the Dark Woods Bogey-Man!

Michell, John.  Natural Likeness:  Faces and Figures in Nature (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1979), pp. 52-54.