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Roswell Rods: A New Species or a Technical Glitch?

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher. He wrote for IHPVA magazines and raced these vehicles with his father (who builds them).

What could this be?

What could this be?

Glitch, or Paranormal Activity?

Sometimes, technology has a way of creating an unintended phenomenon. In this case, video cameras—which had replaced portable film-movie cameras in the 1990s as the prime choice of professional and amateur filmmakers alike—may have created a “flying creature” craze.

To be fair, the legend of the Roswell Rods—also simply known as rods—was not solely the creation of the video camera. Professional and amateur videographers, Ufologists, paranormal researchers, cryptozoologists, and mainstream media helped to expose this so-called creature to the public.

Still, the images supposedly captured on videotape are the best evidence, to date, for proof of their existence. But, the evidence may well be the result of an optical illusion created by this type of movie camera.

The very first "rod" caught on video (the one that started the craze)

The very first "rod" caught on video (the one that started the craze)

Brief History of the "Rods"

The primary source for the rods stretches back to March 1994. Back then, Jose Escamilla, a producer-director had videotaped sixteen minutes of daylight footage several miles from Roswell, New Mexico. With Roswell being the hub of all things “UFO”, there’s no doubt what Escamilla was trying to film in this place.

According to an interview on the radio show, Coast to Coast AM, Escamilla claimed that he was in the area on March 5 to film UFOs and thought he had his one-and-only chance to document one. Then, fourteen days later, he captured “something” on videotape (whether it was in the same place or if he made his discovery after editing the film was never made clear). The thing, in his word, didn’t look normal.

At first, he believed it was an insect or a bird that happened to have flown within the camera’s range. However, he decided to run several tests and discovered that the thing he captured on film wasn’t a bird or bug (again, the original broadcast doesn’t state what those tests were). In 2006, Escamilla claimed in another Coast to Coast interview that a follow-up test had to do with shutter speed.

In the years to follow, the rod phenomena exploded. Other videographers claimed they caught it on tape. And, like most legends, the rod started taking on several names. They were being called “flying rods," “skyfish," “solar entities," and the ever-popular “rods."

Rods are often described in the following manner: they are said to “flit about in the air at such a high speed as to not be seen by the naked eye."

— Goggia, 2010

How It Got Its “Roswell” Name

Soon, it was not just videographers getting involved. Due to its initial discovery near Roswell, it became a new entry in the field of Ufology study. The timing of the rods’ emergence couldn’t be any better. Shows such as Unsolved Mysteries were hungry for anything with a mystery tied to it. It wasn’t long before a segment was dedicated to it. In later years, History Channel’s Monster Quest dedicated an episode to it (more on that later).

Reason to Be Skeptical

Still, as is the case with most legends, there was (and still is) plenty of skepticism. Many aspects of the rods leave them open to criticism, in particular, its general description, when it’s actually seen, and of those who have been reporting it.

Rods are often described in the following manner: they are said to “flit about in the air at such a high speed as to not be seen by the naked eye (Goggia, 2010).” This description reveals something: a person cannot spot these rods without the help of a video camera.

That leads to the mechanism of the video camera. According to the website,, the rods are the creation of how images are recorded on video and played back. The site points out that, “the fast passage before the camera of an insect flapping its wings two to four times during a 1/60th video exposure has been shown directly to produce rod-like effects.” As a result of this, motion blur is created; this blur stretches and distorts common birds or bugs and turns them into something else when the video is reviewed.

Surprisingly, MonsterQuest—a show not known for disproving paranormal claims—lead the way in debunking the rods claim. The show examined camera angles, camera speeds, and possible culprits for the real identity of the rods (one suggestion had to do with hummingbirds). They showed that insects and birds with fast wing velocity could replicate the appearance of a rod as seen caught on film.

The column further states that “rods” effects can be duplicated by anyone with a video camera.

Honest Mistake or Sly Hoax?

Other critics claim there’s more than misinterpretation happening here. In 2000, a writer for the column “The Straight Dope” called the rods “nonsense” as well as “one of the biggest scams in recent history, [that] needs SERIOUS debunking.”

The column further states that “rods” effects can be duplicated by anyone with a video camera. They lay the claim of a scam at the feet of those who know the truth—such as TV producers—but choose to promote the rod as being a mysterious or extraterrestrial creature.

Lately, the rods have become a thing of the recent past. Video cameras have been replaced by digital cams. The pictures are often clearer and crisp. However, some proponents, such as Escamilla and Coast to Coast AM, are still insisting that the rods exist. Recently, Escamilla claimed he has created a new system that would eliminate shutter speed as a factor. No word (except Escamilla) if this new system works.

Could this be what rods look like up close?

Could this be what rods look like up close?

Extra: Jose Escamilla Still Believes

Jose Escamilla hasn't given up on the Roswell Rods. In fact, he's still producing videos that claim that they still exist, despite a damning segment on MonsterQuest that disproved much of his findings.

This has become a cottage industry for him. Also, it has seemingly solidified him as a paranormal investigator. There are websites, blogs, and Youtube videos from him touching on a myriad of paranormal subjects.

Still, his hallmark subject is the rods. And, as the following video reveals, he'll keep on fighting for it.

Questions & Answers

Question: Could a "Roswell Rod" just be some super fast bird we don't know about?

Answer: It can be either a bird or a bug (most likely a flying bug). Whatever it might be, the cameras were not adjusted to capture the wing-flap speed, thus creating the illusion that something unearthly flew by.

Question: Where can I send a video of an unexplained extraterrestrial object?

Answer: Your best bet is probably YouTube. If you're looking for someone to analyze the object, you can check with a local videographer or anyone that works professionally with film and videos.

© 2015 Dean Traylor