Optical illusions are nothing new, but this particular optical illusion carries an important message. If you’re one of the many who cannot see the hidden image, spoiler alert: it’s a panda.
Still can’t see it? Sometimes looking at the image from far away or at an angle (or both) can help your mind make sense of the visual trickery that is at play. Got it now? Still no? Well you’re on your own. Otherwise, it’s time to explain not only how this illusion works, but also what it means.
Let’s start with how it works. If you look very closely at the lines (which can be a little disconcerting) you may notice tiny imperfections in the zig zags. Near the edges of the panda, the otherwise ruler-straight edges of the zig-zag lines are offset by just a tiny amount. Sometimes as little as a single “pixel” (the smallest possible size that can be presented on a computer screen). To a casual observer, this is nearly imperceptible. Indeed many will go by this image not seeing the hidden panda at all. But if you are observing it from the right angle, and at the right distance, those tiny offset pixels inform your brain that something more is at play.
Once your brain figures out that the pattern isn’t perfect, it will darken your perception of certain regions, which unveil the hidden panda.
That’s the simple explanation, but what’s more significant about this image is what it was used for. This was a poster used by the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) in Washington DC to advocate awareness of endangered species. In the lower right, you can see the text “They can disappear” which, of course, isn’t just referring to the transient image of the panda on the poster. The panda itself is an endangered species, and also coincidentally the WWF’s logo, however the agency works to protect all endangered species around the world which can, indeed, disappear.