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14 Magical Optical Illusions Found in Nature

Have you ever experienced these natural optical illusions in nature?

Woman walking in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.Maiquel Jantsch/Getty Images

The beauty of nature

In these uncertain times, it can be hard to get out and experience what nature has to offer with everyone being stuck inside. Escape to nature in these magical optical illusion photos that you won’t believe are real. Check out these optical illusions that will make your brain hurt.

Sundog during a sunsetjdmcfish/Getty Images


This optical illusion that appears to be three suns shining down on the earth is called a sundog. It happens when sunlight reflects through icy clouds that contain crystals. These are the most surreal natural phenomena—explained.

A Brocken spectre, also called Brocken bow or mountain spectreVladimir Glinskii/Getty Images

Brocken spectre

This optical illusion makes it look like there is a tiny rainbow within a cloud. A Brocken spectre, or mountain spectre, occurs on mountain tops when the sun is low casting enlarged shadows on the tops of clouds. The optical illusion is that the shadow of the observer looks to be as far away as objects in the distance. The shadow is surrounded by colored bands that are caused by a distraction on sunlight by water in the clouds. These real places look like optical illusions.

Full moon and lonely treeBalazsKovacs/Getty Images

Bigger than life moon

Have you ever noticed that when the moon is close to the horizon it looks ten times bigger than when it’s high in the sky? This phenomenon is known as the “moon illusion.” When the moon appears close to the ground it changes your depth perception and causes your brain to see a very large moon. If you hold your hand in a telescope shape and look at the moon without the horizon so close it will appear small in size again.

Attacus Atlas moths are one of the largest lepidopterans in the worldRudolf Ernst/Getty Images

Atlas moth

The Atlas moth has two snake eyes on its wings to scare off predators. When they sense that something is coming to attack they open their wings and the predator backs off. See if you can spot the animals camouflaged in these photos.

Closeup cobweb on plants and the treesarchitectphd/Getty Images

Web of water

Dew or rain caught on spider webs can create the illusion of water floating in mid-air.

UFO clouds cloud landscape, Cape Town, South AfricaAva-Leigh/Getty Images

Lenticular clouds

No, those strange looking things in the sky aren’t UFOs, they’re actually clouds. Lenticular clouds form when warm air moves over a mountain or mountain range and the air on the downwind side of the mountain remains cool. These are the most colorful natural wonders on earth.

Monkey FaceLisa_Nunikyan/Getty Images

Dracula orchid

At first glance, this unique flower looks like a face. The flower is known as the Dracula orchid and the “eyes” and “mouth” are just small petals in the center of the flower.

Aerial view of the underwater waterfall. MauritiusGoodOlga/Getty Images

Underwater waterfall

Underwater waterfalls do exist, but this spot along the shoreline of Mauritius isn’t one of them. You’re actually seeing sand being pushed off of an underwater shelf called the Mascarene Plateau. You probably never learned about these crazy facts about earth in school.

Jacob's Well near Austin Texas USAbenedek/Getty Images

Jacob’s Well

While this natural wonder is very deep, from certain angles it looks like it goes all the way to the dark center of the earth. Jacob’s Well, located outside of Austin, Texas, is a great place to cool off in the hot summers, but can also be dangerous for those that dare to explore the cave below.

Classic The Wave on filmlumenetumbra/Getty Images

The Wave

This natural rock formation known as The Wave throws off your depth perception because of the natural lines on the rocks. It’s located in Arizona, in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. Take a look at these breathtaking wave photos you won’t believe are real.

Jeep on the Uyuni Salar in BoliviaDmitriyBurlakov/Getty Images

Salt flats

When the salt flat in Bolivia called Salar de Uyuni is covered in a thin layer of water it makes for some great optical illusions. This truck looks like it’s floating on top of the water.

Horsetail FirefallMichael Castaneda/Getty Images

Horsetail Falls

No, this isn’t a waterfall of fire. Every year, around the second week of February, the sunset hits Horsetail Falls in Yosemite Park at just the right angle making it appear as though it’s on fire. Here are some natural wonders you’ve probably never heard of.

Fata Morganaprill/Getty Images

Mirage in the desert

A mirage in the desert might easily be mistaken for a body of water. Mirages occur when the ground is very hot and the air is cool. The hot air on the ground warms a layer of air just above the ground and when light moves from the cool air into the hot air just above the ground it’s bent creating a mirage.

Mirage on highway with car on a hot desert day in July in Arizona, United States.ArtesiaWells/Getty Images

Mirage on the road

A mirage can also appear on roadways. Just like the floor of the desert gets hot, roads also get very hot because of its dark color. Now, take a look at these perfectly timed nature photos.

Morgan Cutolo
Morgan is an Associate Editor at Reader’s Digest. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2016 where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. She writes for, helps lead the editorial relationship with our partners, manages our year-round interns, and keeps the hundreds of pieces of content our team produces every month organized. In her free time, she likes exploring the seacoast of Maine where she lives and works remotely full time and snuggling up on the couch with her corgi, Eggo, to watch HGTV or The Office.