The Brief: This popular meme stemmed from an anime screenshot, and is typically used to depict dissonance between someone's perception and reality.
This meme comes from a scene in the 1990s Japanese anime series, The Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird, in which a humanoid robot looks at a butterfly and asks “is this a pigeon?” Of course, it’s not a pigeon, it’s a butterfly. In 2011, a screenshot of the image was uploaded to Tumblr and inspired many memes, usually ones that replaced the image of a butterfly with another animal or image.
In 2018, the meme resurfaced, this time with text added to the image of the butterfly. This meme is often used to comically portray misunderstandings and misperceptions.
— Netflix US (@netflix) May 3, 2018
— Cat Graffam (@catgraffam) May 4, 2018
The popularity and spread of this meme exemplifies how memes are less about their origins, and more about what people make of them online.