The internet loves animals, and it loves a good optical illusion. So what could have more potential to go viral than animal optical illusions? They combine two of our favourite things – and blow our minds in the process. And it seems the internet just can't get enough of them.
There's no shortage of animal optical illusions doing the rounds, from the legendary rotating horse of TikTok to an accidental three-headed deer and a cat who might be going up or down a flight of steps (people are still fiercely arguing that one out). Below we've rounded up the best, or most popular, that we've seen yet for your viewing pleasure. Can't get enough? For more mind-melting visuals, see our pick of the 15 must-see optical illusions for our all-time faves.
The rotating horse optical illusion
No list of animal optical illusions would be complete without this little mind-boggling beauty. It proved so popular that it almost broke Creative Bloq's when we first wrote about it back in March, such was the traffic from readers eager to try this dizzying trick of the eye for themselves.
The video, which we came across on TikTok, shows a peculiar geometric horse rotating. Posted by the aptly named TrippyHub, it asks what seems a very simple question, 'What direction is the horse rotating?'. But it turned out that answering that question wasn't so simple at all. It left TikTokkers absolutely baffled and picked up over 292,000 likes in the process – people just love being confused.
Most people seem to see the horse turn both ways, taking one direction and then switching. However, some seem to see it move only in one direction and one commenter even claimed they could "control which way it moves."
So what's going on? Well, the illusion is an equestrian adaptation of the spinning ballerina illusion, which WhatIsPsychology says exploits the existence of two perceptual states, referred to as bistable perception. "Due to the image’s lack of visual cues for depth, the ambiguous 2-dimensional figure can be seen from two different perspectives," it says. But what direction is the horse really rotating? Sorry, it has yet to be verified, but for the record, our own thoughts are that it's looping in a clockwise rotation.
The three-headed deer optical illusion
Most of the optical illusions that appear on our radar have been created intentionally to exploit visual quirks with the devious purpose of frazzling our minds, but here's one that was entirely accidental. Out in the wild, a long way from any design software, a photographer in Lithuania managed to photograph what looks like a three-headed deer in the woods of Penevezys County. Some sort of Photoshop trickery, you'll immediately think. But not at all, this is the original photograph.
Captured way back in 2014, the Renatas Jakaitis's photo shows three deer walking in single file with their heads turned towards the camera (due to the sound of Jakaitis's camera shutter). It was only when reviewing the photos later that he realised he had accidentally created the effect of a single animal with three heads.
So it just shows, you need to be a master of Photoshop to create an optical illusion that gets the whole internet talking. Sometimes all you need is one of the best cameras.
The cat on the stairs optical illusion
Ah, cats. They're the internet's favourite animal, so we could hardly not include a cat optical illusion, could we? And this one's a gem. It looks like a fairly straightforward photo at first, but then you're asked whether the cat's walking up or down the steps and you're left questioning everything.
As with many optical illusions, there are those who claim it can tell you something about your personality. According to The Minds Journal, if you think the cat is walking up the stairs you're more optimistic and if you see it walking downstairs then you're more pessimistic. Yes, we're dubious about that too, but then maybe that's because we're pessimistic – judging by the shadows we do lean towards the camp that claims the cat's heading down.
On 9Gag architects, engineers and vets continue to weigh in on the debate, offering evidence ranging from calculations of the angle of the steps to the differences in how cats tackle stairs depending on whether they're going up or down (it's claimed cats walk more cautiously when going up, if you're wondering). Unfortunately, seven years on and the elusive creator of the image has yet to appear to reveal the truth, and so it remains one of the internet's great mysteries.
The hidden animals optical illusion
So we're not quite convinced that a bunch of animals laid on top of each other with low opacity and gradient overlay counts as an optical illusion. It's not exactly tricking our eyes in any way, but this hidden animals "optical illusion" has been hugely popular online. Again, there are claims that it can tell you something about your personality. The original poster, YourTango, reckons that seeing the octopus first means you're intelligent and brave. It doesn't have an explanation for what it means if you immediately see several species at once. Can you spot all six creatures?
These are just a few of our recent favourites, but we're sure there are more great animal optical illusions to come. Perhaps you could even make one yourself. As we've seen above, little in the way of software is needed, but it can certainly help. You'll find the best current prices on Adobe's Creative Cloud suite of apps below if you need to kit yourself out to start making your own creations.