30 Natural Phenomena You Won’t Believe Actually Exist
Earth is more bizarre than you can ever imagine. Inspired by this Reddit thread.
1. Dirty thunderstorms, aka volcanic lightning, occur when lightning is produced in a volcanic plume.
Martin Rietze / Via mrietze.com
They look like the entrance to Hell!
Carlos Gutierrez / UPI Photo / Landov
2. Oh wait, here’s The Door to Hell, a gas fire in Turkmenistan accidentally ignited by scientists in 1971 and still burning. Oops.
Flickr: flydime / Creative Commons
3. Flammable ice bubbles: frozen bubbles of methane, trapped beneath Alberta’s Lake Abraham.
Emmanuel Coupe / Getty Images
4. The Catumbo Lightning, which occurs during 140 to 160 nights a year, 10 hours per night and up to 280 times per hour.
commons.wikimedia.org / Creative Commons
5. Christmas Island’s Red Crabs: Each year an estimated 43 million land crabs migrate to lay their eggs in the ocean.
Imago / Barcroft Media
Authorities close most of the island’s roads during the migration, which normally takes at least a week.
6. Monarch butterflies: The eastern North American population is notable for its southward late summer/autumn migration from the USA and Canada to Mexico, covering thousands of kilometers.
Flickr: lunasinestrellas / Creative Commons
No individual butterfly lives through the whole migration. Female monarchs lay eggs and their offspring continue the migrations.
7. Surreal spiderwebs: Fleeing torrential floodwaters near Wagga Wagga, Australia, thousands of spiders cover fields with cobwebs.
Reuters / Daniel Munoz
Reuters / Daniel Munoz
8. Namibia’s mysterious Fairy Circles: Studies suggest that a sand termite is responsible for their creation.
Norbert Juergens / University of Hamburg
9. Underwater crop circles in the ocean off Japan: created by a male pufferfish in order to woo females.
Yoji Ookata / NHK / Via ookatayouji.amaminchu.com
10. Spherical boulders in New Zealand: exhumed from the mudstone enclosing them by coastal erosion.
Flickr: chris_gin / Creative Commons
11. The Great Blue Hole: a large submarine sinkhole off the coast of Belize, over 300m across and 124m deep.
12. The Black Sun: Huge flocks of up to 50,000 starlings form in areas of the UK just before sundown during mid-winter. They are known as murmurations.
Flickr: 27770620@N02 / Donald Macauley / Creative Commons
13. The Sardine Run: occurs from May through July when billions of sardines move north along the east coast of South Africa. Their sheer numbers create a feeding frenzy along the coastline.
Flickr: mycoffeemug / Creative Commons
Flickr: mycoffeemug / Creative Commons
14. The Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland: an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption.
Flickr: iguanajo / Creative Commons
Flickr: ncurado / Creative Commons
15. Sailing stones in Death Valley, USA: a geological phenomenon where rocks move and inscribe long tracks along a smooth valley floor without human or animal intervention.
Flickr: mandj98 / Creative Commons
Flickr: thomashawk / Creative Commons
16. Tidal bores on the Amazon in Brazil and the Severn in England: a tidal phenomenon in which the leading edge of the incoming tide forms a wave of water that travels up a river against the flow.
17. The Flowering Desert: occurs in the Atacama Desert, Chile, in years when rainfall is unusually high. Normally the region receives less than 12mm of rain annually.
Flickr: alfathir / Creative Commons
18. Circumhorizontal arcs, misleadingly known as fire rainbows: an optical phenomenon featuring an ice halo formed by plate-shaped ice crystals in high level cirrus clouds.
Flickr: markdavis / Creative Commons
Flickr: ashamar / Creative Commons
19. Lenticular clouds over Mount Olympus: stationary lens-shaped clouds that form in the troposphere. Because of their shape, they have been offered as an explanation for some UFO sightings.
20. Mammatus clouds, aka “mammary clouds” or “breast clouds”: a meteorological term applied to a rare pattern of pouches hanging underneath the base of a cloud.
Flickr: mike9alive / Creative Commons
21. Polar stratospheric clouds: also known as nacreous clouds (from nacre, or mother of pearl, due to their iridescence).
22. Undulatus asperatus aka “roughened or agitated waves”: This cloud formation has been proposed as a separate cloud classification by the founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society and would be the first new type of cloud recognised since 1951.
23. Tanzania’s Lake Natron: a salt lake fed by mineral-rich hot springs that is the only regular breeding area in East Africa for the 2.5 million lesser flamingoes.
The flamingo population has been adversely affected in recent years by suspected heavy metal poisoning, and the lake is currently under threat by a proposed soda ash plant by Tata Chemicals.
Flickr: rainbirder / Creative Commons
24. Canada’s saline endorheic alkali Spotted Lake: contains some of the highest quantities of magnesium sulfate, calcium and sodium sulphates in the world.
Flickr: jeremyhiebert / Creative Commons
25. Bioluminescent waves on a beach in the Maldives: Various species of phytoplankton are known to bioluminesce; when washed ashore by the tides, their chemical energy is turned into light energy.
Doug Perrine / Barcroft Media / Landov
26. Bioluminescent dinoflagellates + the right conditions = Red Tide: a condition where the dinoflagellates become so numerous that the water takes on a muddy reddish colour.
Flickr: msauder / Creative Commons
27. Light pillars: an optical phenomenon formed by the reflection of sunlight or moonlight by ice crystals that are present in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The light pillar looks like a thin column that extends vertically above the source of light. They have been known to produce false UFO reports.
28. Rainbow eucalyptus aka rainbow gum: patches of outer bark are shed annually at different times, darkening and maturing to give blue, purple, orange and then maroon tones.
Flickr: alverson / Creative Commons
Flickr: kristi_decourcy / Creative Commons
29. Frost flowers: ice crystals commonly found growing on young sea ice and thin lake ice in extremely cold, calm conditions nearing -22C or -7.6F.
igert.org / Jeff Bowman
30. Snow chimneys on Mount Erebus, Antarctica: the southernmost active volcano on Earth.
Special mention: The Moskstraumen is a tidal whirlpool, one of the strongest in the world, that forms in the Norwegian Sea*.
Flickr: 21326292@N00 / Nicolas Massé / Creative Commons
*Note: This may not actually be a picture of the Moskstraumen— they’re difficult to take! If you have one, please post in the comments below!
The Moskstraum was the inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe’s short story A Descent into the Maelström (1841), which brought the term maelstrom into the English language.
An earlier version of this post did not properly cite the source of information relating to Monarch butterfly migrations.