It's a terrifying way to get a temporary tattoo. To get the feathery looking, fern-like pattern running down this man's left arm, he first needed to be struck by lightning.
Known as a "Lichtenberg figure," for the German physicist who first described seeing a similar pattern while experimenting with static electricity, these reddish fern-leaf patterns are a skin reaction to a lightning strike.
These dramatic "keraunographic" marks are sometimes referred to as "lightning flowers" or "lightning trees." They tend to occur on the arms, back, neck, chest, or shoulders of lightning strike victims.
and apparently the effects one receives from being struck by lightning are not always detrimental as this article notes.
A couple of days ago I came across two unusual tales from the past, which demonstrate that being hit by lightning isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The first is recounted in Mark Pilkington’s excellent little book Far Out: 101 Strange Tales From Science's Outer Edge. It concerns an event that is reputed to have occurred during a service at Wells Cathedral in Somerset in 1596 (the cathedral is famous for the sculptures on its west front, shown on the left, which illustrate the Day of Judgment).
According to Isaac Casaubon’s Adversaria, written a few years after the incident, the Cathedral was struck by a bolt of lightning and the congregation inside was thrown to the floor. When they recovered, no-one was hurt, but they all bore tattoos of the Cross on their bodies. Even the Bishop of Wells and his wife were marked in this way. This was an early example of what later came to be called “keranography”... the theory that lightning could imprint images on the skin in a kind of spontaneous, natural photography. Although the idea is dismissed as pseudoscience today, it’s perfectly true that non-fatal lightning strikes can leave tattoo-like marks on the body. No doubt the pious people of Wells in 1596 interpreted these as the sign of the cross!
A few hours after reading Mark’s book, I got an e-mail from Ray Girvan drawing my attention to a curious story about Mary Anning (1799 - 1847), who lived in Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast... about 40 miles south of Wells. Mary Anning is the greatest figure in Lyme’s history: she discovered the first fossilized ichthyosaur when she was just twelve years old, and went on to become one of the most highly skilled and highly regarded fossil-hunters of the nineteenth century. She was recently voted the third most influential British woman in the history of science. And—if you believe a local legend—it’s all because she was struck by lightning when she was a toddler.