Some people see Jesus in their toast, others see the Virgin Mary in the bark of a tree. Hope Martin of Columbia, Mo., saw something entirely different: Albert Einstein in a caterpillar.

In this secular version of a religious apparition — a vision for the science set — Martin and her daughter Jessie noticed the frizzy critter on the trunk of a walnut tree in her garden. They shot some pictures of the hirsute larvae and enlarged them on their computer screen, when they noticed an uncanny resemblance to the German physicist best known for developing the general theory of relativity … as well as for his charming shock of white hair.

“I was amazed at how fuzzy it was and just how much it looked like Albert Einstein too. My daughter and I observed him for quite a while — it was an active little critter,” Martin said. “The first time put the two side by side it was funny, but an amazing likeness. It has the hair like Einstein but with its distinct markings it makes it look like the famous picture of Einstein with his tongue stuck out.”

As it turns out, the genius-mimicking insect is the caterpillar of a laugher moth (Charadra deridens) so named for the suggestion of a laughing face in the pattern of its forewings. And what’s going on with that Einstein hair-do? Caterpillars have the unfortunate distinction of being an excellent source of protein with few defenses. Many caterpillars have developed markings and other features like wild hair that can make them either disappear or seem larger and fierce; some have even developed toxic poisons making them painful, even deadly, to the touch.

So it looks more like a case of evolution than apparition; but as for the creative interpretation, Einstein would have presumably been charmed. As he said in a 1929 interview, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

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