By Phil Plait | January 11, 2009 9:55 pm

I hate to break form in my usual titling of these posts, but I couldn’t resist this one. Think of it as Guppeidolia, or Pareitilapia, if that makes you happier.

Jesus in a fish bone

Whatever you call it, it’s, well, it’s Jesus on the cross. Inside a fish. Specifically, the skull of a catfish, and even more specifically the Gafftopsail catfish.

If you go to that website, that info is actually a bit hard to find, because the site is, um, well. Go there and you’ll see.

Of course, the guy is selling these fish skulls, but says he’ll donate some of the proceeds to charity, which is nice. Like a lot of religious pareidolia practitioners, he does make some unusual claims, such as (layout and caps are all his):

Now the FREE BONUS for finding this page
YOU WILL SEE Jesus Magically appear to you IN THIN AIR

I looked around my room but saw no apparitions. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough. I haven’t studied all the grain in my desk, or the fiber patterns in my carpet. Maybe I missed it.

I think this guy is sincere in his beliefs. I also think he’s wrong. While the bone does look like a cross, and even a guy on a cross, what we’re really seeing here is the convergence of two paths of evolution: one that shaped the fish skull this way, and the other that shaped our brains to interpret shapes into patterns that aren’t really there.

But then, isn’t all art pareidolia? You’re not really seeing a woman smiling in the Mona Lisa: it’s just paint. David is just scratches and curves in rock. But then, no one thinks those really are what they represent; the art is in the representation.

So, the conclusion I come to? Sometimes a cigar fish is just a cigar fish.


Comments (65)

  1. Quiet Desperation

    There’s good eatin’ in one of them there Jesuses.

  2. Quiet Desperation

    Try it with crackers. HA!

  3. Cameron

    The Jesus apparition is actually an old optical illusion that appears beneath the big text about it, there’s a little video. It’s not saying that Jesus will appear next to you and take out our trash, it’s saying that Jesus will appear as an afterimage if you stare at a picture on the screen for too long.

  4. Dan

    Jesus didn’t appear to me.

    Jesus must be broken.

  5. Flip

    Looks more like Jesus being attacked from behind by someone wearing a tribal headdress or large mask.

  6. I do have to say that Jesus or not that is a really cool looking skull.

  7. TheBlackCat

    This is nothing unique to this guy, in fact one of the common names of that particular species fish is “the crucifix fish”. I remember seeing them in a bunch of gift shops in Florida at least a decade ago.


    To me, it resembles the skull of a Triceratops:

    Click on the picture for the Wikipedia article

  9. bjn

    “But then, isn’t all art pareidolia?”

    Uh, no. You might make a case that *representational* art is pareidolia, but by definition pareidolia is attributing a patter to vague or random stimuli. Representational art isn’t random and it’s vague only when it’s poorly done or intentionally so. A lot of art isn’t representational and has nothing at all to do with pareidolia.

    One of my favorite examples:

  10. bjn

    Edit: patter = pattern

  11. Funny, it looks like Jonah to me.


  12. gaypaganunitarianagnostic

    Used to be one of those fish skulls on the wall of the family beach house. The house was sold years ago and probably didn’t survive Ike.

  13. Brian

    That fish skull better not start singing, that’s all I’ll say.

  14. I found the Virgin Mary under my microscope, in the cellulose of a dandelion:

  15. You have to scroll down and click on a link to see what he calls Jesus floating in the air. Of course, when I click on the link and follow the directions, I think I see that guy from the rolling paper package.

    I did see the Virgin Mary in a window and it was undeniable.

  16. > I looked around my room but saw no apparitions

    How could you miss it? 😉

  17. quasidog

    I see an ancient Aztec Priest with a big feathery headdress with his arms out preaching to the throngs .. probably right before he cuts someones heart out and shows it to the Sun. But that’s just me.

  18. Looks to me like some bizarrely -helmeted fella trying to block my entry into a bizarre boney wonderland. Either that or a skinny guy making snow angels.

    For what it’s worth Jesus didn’t magically appear in my room either but a few minutes after reading that a colleague came into the room with a cup of coffee for me. Could he be the second coming? If so it’s a bit of an inauspicious start but I’ll keep you posted in case there are any wine/water incidents over the coming weeks.

  19. Von Krieger

    It’s a quintesson!

  20. Gary Ansorge

    After seeing this,,,stuff,,,I can’t help but wonder if Cyril M. Cornbluths MArching Morons wasn’t spot on, but then I read an article about preselcting embroyos to eliminate heriditary defects and I have hope that average people will select for intelligence in their off spring, realizing that in order to successfully compete in a techno economy, their kids will need real smarts. Now all we have to do is to be able to fix embroyos so they’re the best they can be,,,and make the process affordable to anyone who chooses to avail themselves of the technology.

    I think most people, if offered the chance, will opt to provide their kids the best chance they can have in life, despite lip service to a “higher power”. After all, God doeswn’t have to pay medical bills to keep a paralytic alive.

    GAry 7
    PS. I noticed a long time ago that the greasy hand prints left behind on my drum skins were prime sources of pereidolia but they seemed to have a distinct tendency to form faces of fat, hairy, old white guys,,,go figure,,,

  21. “Sometimes a cigar fish is just a cigar fish.”

    Not to a puffer fish.

  22. aReddishGreen

    I especially like the “Buy One” repeated over and over in the background image on the site in white. Do you think that was the site proprietor’s attempt at subliminal advertising?

  23. Levi in NY

    I never knew Jesus received a shoulder massage from a giant squirrel when he was being crucified…

  24. Jerry

    If you have Gafftopsail catfish and crackers, are you receiving the host twice?

    Good thing that the diner wasn’t a Marvel Comics fan. Otherwise, they might have named it the Cannonball catfish…

  25. Tobin Dax

    [stretching]BA, maybe you didn’t see anything because he would appear “in thin air,” not out of thin air. :-)[/stretching]

    (I really shouldn’t try to make jokes before 8:00 a.m.)

  26. Michelle

    Jesus! God of the SEA!

    …Ha. 😀

  27. phiend

    That’s funny, I had forgotten about these. I used to catch these fish when I was younger, they are all over the gulf coast here in Florida, and most christians around know about them. Just for fun, they may have jesus on the inside, but their fins are sharp and hurt like a mother effer when they stab you.

  28. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    their kids will need real smarts. Now all we have to do is to be able to fix embroyos so they’re the best they can be,,,and make the process affordable

    If it’s any consolation, some paleoanthropologists claim that human natural selection has observably accelerated lately at several orders of magnitude due to the likewise increased population size. So nature is already doing it for us. And it ‘knows’ better what are “the best” too.

    Ironically, IIRC the latest observations and ideas on Neanderthals, they were probably smarter than us, and that earlier in life, but since the larger skull still developed at a faster rate common to basic hominids they required more and better nurturing. Instead sapiens, perhaps due to some hardship bottleneck situation, had come up with a development modification that enabled us to outbreed them.

    Suffice to say, that basic outbreeding capability isn’t exactly what we would wish for nowadays. And ironically we can perhaps in part blame today’s starvation episodes on yesterday’s. Misery loves company, and all that.

    Btw, on that topic I hear that the embiggement of potential life length, more precisely the part that can be observed after better environment and medicine is already in effect, has been said to perhaps be due to sexual selection. More precisely the tendency of societies to have yet older, still capable, men marry younger, still fertile, women.

    As being a man I assume I should then take my moral responsibility towards future generations, and target yet younger women as I get older, taking the ever more increasing evolutionary ‘ROI’ into account. 😉

  29. the bug guy

    The “crucifix fish” has been a staple tacky tourist trinket of Florida for decades. I wondered how long it would take for them to make the transition to the internet.

  30. Mike

    My first thought upon seeing was a Vegas Showgirl with a big feather headdress and some angel wings….you can tell where my mind is this morning…

  31. That website gave me flashbacks to 1996, when everyone’s websites looked like that. Phil you should be ashamed of yourself for not giving proper warning, that was worse than being rickrolled.

  32. Bryan

    I only see the Skeksis from the Dark Crystal.

  33. So, the fishy Jesus icon is supposed to bring Good Luck and Protection (title aps required) and will help win bingo games and lottery drawings?

    Can’t these people aim a bit higher with their Lucky Jebus Good Luck Charms and maybe help bring about Whirled Peas? Or maybe Peas on Earth? If Jesus is so powerful, why doesn’t he head for the Holy Land and use the fish skulls to work some magic on the folks who are tussling over there?

    Oh, and I’m really impressed that this guy selling the Jebus Fishbones has survived four major hurricanes. I’m guessing the fish didn’t fare so well, since he’s selling their skulls. What is it that Jebus has against these poor defenseless fish?

    Enquiring minds want to know.

    Oh, and the popup ads and Military Discounts were a nice touch, too.


  34. The interior side of the human maxillary bone looks a lot like a butterfly to me but I don’t take that to mean that the great spirit Lepidoptera is somehow in my head.

  35. I looked around my room but saw no apparitions. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough. I haven’t studied all the grain in my desk, or the fiber patterns in my carpet. Maybe I missed it.

    The toast, Phil! Look at the toast!

  36. JoeSmithCA

    Phil, you’ll never see Jesus, Big Foot, Martian Trees, UFOs, the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus unless you believe–or are under the influence of halucinigen. Haven’t you seen or read The Polar Express? :)

    Thanks for the pic, it gave me an idea on how to test one of my pattern recognition programs for faults.

  37. kuhnigget

    As someone who has dyslexia himself, I shouldn’t laugh, but…

    I really want to know the “Legend of the Cricuifx Fish”

    That website was hysterical. The human ability to manufacture alternate realities never ceases to astound.

  38. Allanimal

    Do people that make web sites like that actually look at them?
    That is hideous!

  39. RamblinDude

    I see “Las Vegas Showgirl Jesus” singing “Hello Dolly.”

    Should that give me pause for concern?

  40. DietMilk


    I love that his page is like 40 feet long.

    He’s right though, I don’t see how you found this without personal, and divine intervention from the crucifish.

  41. Quiet Desperation

    Jesus must be broken.

    Your Jesus has encountered an unexpected error. [Error type: crucifixion]

    Would you like to reboot your Jesus?

  42. So as Magritte would say, this is not a pipefish.

  43. SteveN

    Impressive, but nothing beats Angus, in my opinion:

  44. Chris

    This man has an interesting story. Thanks for linking to his site. I was struck by the fact that he trusts “science” (his doctors) and since they kept telling him he would never walk, but then he did, it had to be a miracle. Perhaps because I have no religious beliefs whatsoever, it seems to me a crucifix in a fish skull is as legitimate as the ones churned out by a factory somewhere. Also, as an aside, I know his site looks hokey, but he obviously built it himself from scratch. Admirable.

  45. looks like he’s screaming which is a surprisingly natural response to being nailed to a cross.
    Also looks like he’s being bitten in the head by a LION just for good measure!

  46. Dave W

    I can only see a General Grievous face mask.

  47. Jumblepudding

    I am so happy that somebody already said it looks like a quintesson. If you see the jesus, it looks like he’s wearing a robe, so that’s biblically inaccurate. He was stripped before crucifixion.

  48. Jeffersonian

    “But then, isn’t all art pareidolia?”

    No…Jackson Pollack, for one. Music, for another.

    Christ the Redeemer, maybe, but it doesn’t look like a crucifixion to me.

  49. The Mutt

    If you are not seeing an apparition of Jesus, clearly the air in your room is too thick.

  50. I too have one of these and since getting mine I have hit the lottery twice ( not the millions but the 4 digit for $5,000.00

    I too read his story about the meeting with Mickey Mantle and was almsot in tears

    It just see,s to me the webmaster is trying to Pay It Forward by offering hrlp to others as the web dite says

    Thwe site is not well done and that myabe the indication of his genuine-ness or maybe that is done on purpose to mislead us ?????

    In any event It was a few minutes of my life that was at least enjoyable

  51. Old Muley

    It’s that guy from the Elite Beat Agents video Game…


  52. I LOVE Angus!! Had to send that to all my friends.


  53. Grand Lunar

    Can you imagine the situation?

    “What sign can I do to show humanity my presence? AH HA! Fish skull!”

    Logic, where art thou?

  54. Sili

    Am I the only one to see Jesus with an enormous, feather headdress like a dragqueen at a Rio Carneval?

  55. I’m guessing that Phil knows about the Pareidolia Museum at bad-language dot com/popetart dot html

  56. Dallas

    I left a link about this in a comment thread here a long long time ago. I’m guessing you didn’t learn about it from me though, since it was so long ago, you probably never saw it, but I knew you’d appreciate this silly case.

    As a collector of skulls, this certainly amused me a lot. I’ve seen this kind of feature in other skulls too, but they don’t look like jesus at all.

  57. Why is it when other people see Jesus, I see some bizaaro alien creature from the Off-White Lagoon or something like that.

  58. I think it’s the Doctor regenerating.

  59. Troy

    What a great racket. Keep the good part of the fish and sell part of the head to the gullible. It has echos of P.T. Barnum and there’s a sucker born every minute. Note they *ONLY* give the $10 if you buy 6 of them. He should invest in a slicker web site, it lacks focus. If you didn’t see the Jesus after image try staring for around 30 seconds. (I’d buy one but I’d like a guarantee NOT TO SMELL!)

  60. Troy, shouldn’t that be, “There’s a suckerfish born every minute?”

  61. Quiet Desperation


    That looks like Gumby after an unfortunate accident involving a bus.

  62. poop

    is that an owl sitting on Jesus’s head? with something splashy coming out of its… cloaca? huh?

  63. gullible or sucker born every minute..maybe I am one of them; however, everyone has the right to see in something whatever the Spirit of God allows, i.e. if you are a believer . I think it depends on where your heart is. For me, it is a touching piece that made me stop and think of Jesus on the cross and the reason He died for US ALL. It is an incredible piece! I am not interested in whether or not it brings good luck because I don’t believe in luck. I believe in the blessings from God which are plentiful if you live your life for Him.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar