Can You Spot The Secret Messages Hidden In These Naturalist Drawings?

What you see here is indeed a butterfly. But it’s also so, so much more.

We looked a little at the (surprisingly rich) history of butterfly-collecting in the world of espionage last week, and today we return to that world with this series of entomological drawings from Robert Baden Powell. Powell is familiar to most people as the founder of the Boy Scouts.


But long before the Boy Scouts existed, Powell was a well-known officer in the British army. And, in a much less well-known role, in spying. As his military career finally drew to a close, Powell wrote up a short memoir of his experiences and sketches, which included this note on how drawings of bugs, plants, and even historic churches could be used to hide the drawings:

The exceedingly stupid Englishmen who wandered about foreign countries sketching cathedrals, or catching butterflies, or fishing for trout, were merely laughed at as harmless lunatics. These have even invited officials to look at their sketch-books, which, had they had any suspicion or any eyes in their heads, would have revealed plans and armaments of their own fortresses interpolated among the veins of the botanist’s drawings of leaves or on the butterflies’ wings of the entomologist.

Remember that up top? Pull back the image slider on top to see just what is hiding underneath.

This lovely stained-glass window sketch is a veritable treasure trove of information. What sort? Take a guess, then pull back the image slider to see the code revealed:

Meanwhile, this bug sitting on a stick has a double life, can you spot it?


Finally, this leaf has an elaborate system of veining, which seems merely an up-close look at a plant from a horticulturist, until you get a look at the drawing that was meant to be lain underneath it:


Images: Robert Baden Powell, My Life As A Spy.

H/T commenter DarkPrince010 from the comments of this post on butterfly-collecting and espionage!



Ok, so how were the receivers of those drawings supposed to make out the relevant info from the decorative? That stained glass has alot going on and I wouldn’t be able to tell where the walls are / aren’t without the other picture. Did Powell make the second versions once he got back to base?