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Mothman's Eyes
by Robert Goerman

Part 1: Why Do Mothman's Eyes Glow Red?

A cinematic event starring Richard Gere has added "Mothman" and "Point Pleasant" to the ever-evolving vocabulary of mainstream America.

The Mothman Prophecies (book and movie) is based on true events. More than fleeting and random encounters with a red-eyed winged monstrosity, the complete story describes how a myriad of paraphysical phenomena stalked the residents of Point Pleasant, West Virginia and environs. Unsettling and mysterious incidents destroyed lives. Forty-six souls were lost when the Silver Bridge collapsed in 1967.

Mothman! It stood broader and taller than a man, walked in sort of a halting off-balance shuffle on muscular and humanlike legs, and emitted a high-pitched squeaking.

But those eyes! The red glowing eyes, set into the "shoulders," (the head was not an outstanding characteristic) seem to have been more terrifying than either the stature of the creature or the ten-foot span of its wings. Witnesses reported feeling an uncontrollable, indescribable terror.

"But it was those eyes that got us. It had two big eyes like automobile reflectors. They were hypnotic. For a minute we could only stare at it. I couldn't take my eyes off it."
---Linda Scarberry


Red glowing eyes?

Bioluminescence?

Eyes that glow red of their own volition? Like fireflies?

Or mechanical? Some kind of infra-red vision?

NO.

The eyewitnesses here are very precise.

"...fiery-red eyes that glow when the lights hit it. There was no glowing about it until the lights hit it."
---Linda Scarberry


The young men said they saw the creature's eyes, which glowed red, only when their lights shined on it.
---Point Pleasant Register (Wednesday, November 16, 1966)


"The dog was sitting on the end of the porch, howling down toward the hay barn... I shined the (flash)light in that direction, and it picked up two red circles, or eyes, which looked like bicycle reflectors. I certainly know what animal eyes look like... these were much larger. It's a good length of a football field to that hay barn... still those eyes showed up huge for that distance."---Newell Partridge

Here we have our first clue...

Animals that see at night must have eyes that collect a lot of light.

Night eyes should be large. The bigger the eyes, the more light they can collect.

Night eyes should have big pupils. Bigger pupils let in more light.

Night eyes should have lots of special cells, called rods, that help them see in the dark.

SOME EVEN HAVE REFLECTORS!

Which is probably why Mothman's eyes appear to glow red in the dark?

The spooky look is caused by a membrane that lines the back of the retina.

Some creatures which spend part of their time using their eyes in dim light have reflective retinas. You see, not all light is absorbed by visual pigments in the retina; some of it passes through. A mirrored layer called the tapetum (ta-PEE-tum) lucidum, "bright carpet," behind the retina, reflects some of this light back through the retina so it has more chance of being captured. By increasing or rather, by bouncing the light that comes into their eyes, these animals effectively increase the amount of light available for their eyes to see with, and increase their ability to see in what we perceive as "darkness". Cats, partly due to the tapetum lucidum, can see clearly in just 1/6th the amount of light humans need. These animals lose some visual acuity this way, but make more efficient use of low light. Light that is not used exits through the pupil causing the "glow" of animal eyes often seen in car headlights or flashlights.

Why your different animals have eyes that glow different colors? It is possible that one of them has visual pigments which absorb shorter wavelengths (so the non-absorbed light would look red) than the other. Different colored irises may account for something.

You don't have a tapetum lucidum. People's eyes look red in some photographs, but it's not a reflector. It's the camera flash bouncing off the red blood vessels and red tissue in the back of your eye.

Over and over again, frightened witnesses suggested that Mothman was "light sensitive."

The creature avoided bright light sources at all costs.

"It apparently is afraid of light." --Steve Mallette

Exactly what you would expect of a creature with eyes designed to see in "darkness."

Eyes equipped with a mirrored layer called the tapetum lucidum.

Eyes that glow red in the dark.


Part 2: Eyeshine and Mothman

"Those eyes!"

Mothman's red glowing eyes, set into the "shoulders," (the head was not an outstanding characteristic) seem to have been more terrifying than either the stature of the creature or the ten-foot span of its wings.

Scattered and independent eyewitness reports of brief encounters with the being we have come to identify as the Mothman have furnished us with many curious clues.

Let's examine scientific reality for a moment.

Animals that see well at night must have eyes that have some or all of the following things:

1 --- Large eyes. The bigger the eyes, the more light they can collect.

2 --- Night eyes should have big pupils. Bigger pupils let in more light.

3 --- A reflector. A cat's eyes are perhaps its most striking features, and never more so than at night, when they seem to glow in the dark with an almost supernatural light.

4 --- Night eyes should have lots of special cells, called rods, that help them see in the dark.

Eyes possessing two or more of these characteristics identify creatures which spend time using their eyes in dim light. Animals who have a habit of prowling in the dark must have eyes that are more efficient in gathering the available light so that the animal can "see" in the dark.

A deer has: big eyes - big pupils - a reflector - lots of rods.

A cat has: big pupils - a reflector - lots of rods.

A toad has: big pupils - lots of rods.

A crocodile: has a reflector - lots of rods.

Human eyes have lots of rods. But we don't see at night as well as some animals do. No reflector.

#1) Mothman was reported as having large eyes. The eyes are front-facing and separated giving good (3-D) binocular vision.

#2) I have never uncovered any mention of pupil size with respect to Mothman's eyes.

In many animals, (including dogs, cats and deer) the retina has a special reflective layer (using platelets of guanine crystals) called the tapetum lucidum (a Latin term that translates as "bright carpet") that acts almost like a mirror at the backs of their eyes. By bouncing the light that comes into their eyes, these animals effectively increase the amount of light available for their eyes to see with, and increase their ability to see in what we perceive as "darkness". If you shine a flashlight or headlights into their eyes at night, their eyes shine back. This is called "eyeshine."

"...fiery-red eyes that glow when the lights hit it. There was no glowing about it until the lights hit it." --- Linda Scarberry

#3) Brilliant eyeshine has been completely documented during Mothman encounters. This is solid evidence that the creature's eyes employ a mirror-like reflecting layer.

#4) Short of an autopsy, I can think of no way to verify whether or not Mothman's eyes have lots of special cells, called rods, that help them see in the dark.

Why do different animals have eyes that glow different colors?

It is possible that one of them has visual pigments which absorb shorter wavelengths (so the non-absorbed light would look red) than the other.

Different colored irises may account for something. Cats with green or yellow eyes tend to reflect greenish light. Cats with blue eyes, such as Siamese, tend to reflect reddish light.

Animal eye-shine ID is an important clue for hunters as well as naturalists. Most cats and dogs usually have green eye shine. Alligators have red eye shine. Opossums eyes shine pink. Birdwatchers often refer to the color reaction to a bird's eyes when they have a light shined on them at night, for example, blue eyeshine or green eyeshine. Most owls have red eyeshine. At night, wolf spiders can be collected by taking advantage of their eyeshine. The light from a flashlight will reflect off of the tapetum located in the eyes of the spider.

Over and over again, frightened witnesses suggested Mothman was "light sensitive" and that the creature avoided bright light sources at all costs.

"It apparently is afraid of light."---Steve Mallette


Have we a natural example of this behavior?

Yes. The tapetum lucidum gives walleyes a built-in survival advantage: they can see well in dim light, but their prey cannot. This natural "night vision" explains why these fish do most of their feeding in dim light. But because of their light-sensitive eyes, walleyes will not tolerate sunlight. If the water is clear and there is no shade in the shallows, the fish may go as deep as 40 feet to escape the penetrating rays. But in dark or choppy waters, walleyes can remain shallow all day.

Perhaps the light sensitive eyes of the Mothman were slow to recover from the blinding effects of automobile headlights and other brilliant light sources.

My point is that the subtle facts recorded by independent witnesses plainly indicated that Mothman had eyes that were more efficient in gathering the available light so that this creature could "see" in the dark. And that this creature behaved accordingly.

Mothman's red glowing eyes...

What other patterns await discovery?


2002 Robert A. Goerman

Books on Mothman:
The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel, Mothman and Other Curious Encounters by Loren Coleman, Mothman: The Facts Behind The Legend by Donnie Sergent Jr., Jeff Wamsley