Black Witch Moth: Large, Common, Bat-like, and Harmless

In European folklore, moths were regarded as witches.  Not a big stretch.  Witches are creatures of the night.  Moths are creatures of the night.  Witches can transform themselves….  Moths can transform themselves (metamorphosis)…. Witches fly.  Moths fly.  Witches have long noses.  Moths have long noses.

–John Himmelman, in the book, Discovering Moths

All hail the Black Witch Moth.  It might be a harbinger of death–or a sign that your future includes a lucky lottery ticket.

Black Witch Moth Female

Black Witch Moth Female, photo via www.whatsthatbug.com

The  intriguing Black Witch Moth, sometimes known as “the bat moth” resembles a bat in size and shape and with a a seven-inch wingspan is the largest moth in North America.  They are common in these parts.

”People often come across it by causing it to fly up and around them,” said entomologist Mike Quinn, who has been tracking the migration of Ascalapha odorata for his Texasento.net website.  “There’s a real startle factor.”

Reports of large,  bat-like moths surprising people, frequently as they return home and are unlocking their front door, are not uncommon.   We spooked several Black Witch Moths on a recent visit to the Santa Ana Wildlife refuge in the Rio Grande Valley, where they roosted under wooden benches and in the eaves of the breezeway near the entrance to the visitor center.    When these big boys flush, they get your attention.

Black Witch Moth Caterpillar

Black Witch Moth Caterpillars like legumes and can reach three inches. Photo via www.texasento.net

Females have a white, sometimes iridescent stripe across their wings with wings open.  Males exhibit the plain, grey, brown mottled pattern commonly associated with moths, but with small dark eyespots on each forewing.   Black Witch Moth caterpillars eat legumes, and favor acacia and mesquite.   They are perfectly harmless, not an agricultural pest, and have no teeth or stingers.

The folklore surrounding Black Witch Moth, like the moth itself, is all over the map.  In Mexico they are known as “mariposa de la muerte,” the butterfly of death.   Some believe if a Black Witch Moth enters the home of someone who is ill, the person will die.

A variation on the folk wisdom suggests that the moth must travel to each corner of the house for death to occur.  The Mayans called the Black Witch x-mahani-nail, which means “the habit of entering buildings.” This moth apparently has a long history of inviting itself inside.

Interestingly, in the Carribean, the Black Witch Moth is known as the “Money Moth” and if it visits your home, you are likely to come into cash.   Here in South Texas, some believe if a Black Witch Moth roosts over your door, you will win the lottery.

Native to Central America and Mexico, the Black Witch starts migrating north in late spring.  “The migration has been going on since June,” said Quinn.  Because of our timely rains and climate change, several Black Witch Moth “records” have been set, meaning the moths have appeared further north earlier in the year than ever.

Black Witch Moth Records 2012

More than 500 Black Witch Moth Records Have been set in 2012. For details, click on the map. Map courtesy www.texasento.net

“This year may end up as the best year yet for Black Witch Moth (BWM) records,” wrote Quinn to the University of Houston Texas Butterfly Listserv, which includes more than 250 novice and professional lepidopterists.   Quinn has recorded more than 500 records so far, including a significant record in Maine, in mid June.

The Black Witches’ seven-inch wingspan allows them to cover a lot of ground quickly.  Entomologists note that  Monarch butterflies start crossing the Rio Grande and take two months to reach Canada.  Black Witches start migrating in June and have been recorded

Hannibal Lechter used actual Black Witch Moth cocoons

Serial killer Hannibal Lechter inserted actual Black Witch Moth cocoons into the mouths of his victims in the movie, Silence of the Lambs.

reaching Maine by June 9 and Manitoba, Canada, by June 28.  That’s a rapid pace for a moth.  Scientists wonder why the Black Witch Moth migrates so far north with no southbound return?  Hmm.

 

In the movie Silence of the Lambs, serial killer Hannibal Lechter inserted cocoons of Black Witch Mothsinto the mouths of his victims as a weird gesture of transformation.   The moth on the movie poster is a Death’s Head Hawk Moth, but the actual cocoon was that of a Black Witch.

If you’d like to have one roost above your door to inspire a winning lottery ticket, you might try setting out a cocktail of fermented fruit or stale beer.   Black Witch Moths also like tree sap.  Good luck!

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42 thoughts on “Black Witch Moth: Large, Common, Bat-like, and Harmless

  1. I came across a Black Witch moth a few years ago flapping at the edge of the road (Blanco/Lockhill Selma). The moth was no longer able to fly (old age? wounded in some way?) but I carried it gently home and sat outside with it perched on my hand for a long, long while. An exquisitely beautiful being with a rare presence. I really felt blessed.

  2. They roost at my house at least twice a year. I have a picture of one that was close to 9″ long. They are stunning!

    • Your 9″ Black Witch Moth is a RECORD SIZE by about two inches. Do you have a picture of the moth? If you do could you send it to me at “semirelicta@yahoo.com”

      There’s also the possibility that it could have been the related White Witch from Mexico, which reaches at least 11″ and would be a first for North America. Did it look paler than the usual Black Witch?

      Send me the picture if you have it!

      Thanks

  3. I just came across a Black Witch moth at work in Lake Arrowhead California a week ago, and just like one of your readers noticed that it was dying and brought it home. I put my hand to it, and it crawled on without hesitation. I shared it with my best friend and ex-wife (the same person) As we talked about my experience with him, it was a male, it passed away on the table of our deck in the back yard. When I first saw him I felt an overwhelming flood of emotions, and could not figure out why, until I realized that It felt like I was seeing God. I cried uncontrollably, off and on for hours. I know that it is a sign of death and/or money, but none of that was the case for me. I felt blessed as well. In looking back it could have signaled the end of my marriage, but the beginning of a new relationship with my ex. I still have him in a shadow box in the dinning room. A pivotal interaction that I will never forget.

  4. I can totally understand how you felt/feel. Although it normally applies to the relieving of emotional tensions through a reaction to art, I think the term catharsis applies here….nature is art to me anyway. Best wishes to you.

    Now let your ex out of that shadow box! ;- )

  5. I am glad I found your website and information. I have had a wondrous experience
    last month with a Black Witch Moth landing on my head. Last August 17 at 2am
    in my kitchen of my condo in San Diego, I had been stressed out and not sleeping because my father was suddenly in ICU, on life support and I could not sleep at all.
    I was the one responsible for him and the nurses were talking to me late into the night.
    I was getting ready to go to bed and felt something on my head. I brushed my head and a large bat…I thought…flew to the counter. I realized it was a large moth that seemed
    to be breathing heavily (my dad was on life support with a breathing machine.)
    It seemed very peaceful and let me take it outside to the patio. I came in and
    suddenly remembered stories from years ago of someone dying and a butterfly
    flying through the room. I went back outside to take a picture of the moth, and it had
    vanished. Later that morning I found my dad had a massive heart attack that night.
    I firmly believe he was visiting me to let me know he had transitioned and was at peace. I never saw one since that time, and feel this was a magical experience. It has helped me to deal with his death.

    • Janet,

      I’m so sorry for your loss. What an amazing tale. I’ve heard many such stories of butterflies or moths landing on loved ones’ shoulders at funerals, or “visiting” at poignant moments. That’s what makes them so magical to us. Thank you for sharing your story. –Monika

  6. I found your site during a Google search for a large moth my husband found in the doorway to his work this morning. Turns out it was a Black Witch Moth. Thank you for this informative page!
    Rachel, College Station, TX

  7. Actually Hannibal Lector didn’t insert Moths in the throats of his victims, Hannibal ate his victims. Buffalo Bill was the one who inserted Moths in the throats of his victims.

    • We have one perched on our pool deck and it’s about 7″ we weren’t sure what it was but it’s a very interesting creature.

  8. The Black Witch Moth is a sign of death to my family… Me and
    mom saw one in our house the
    day before my grandma passed away well its been two years and we saw another one the day before my friend Adrian passed away and now tonight we have yet to see another one and not long after my sister has an anxiety attack…

  9. We are northerners who have been living in south Texas fir 2 1/2 years…. And we’re convinced there was a bat flying around in our house! Turns out, it was just this moth! We have big mesquite trees in our back yard… Makes sense…… And I’m so glad it wasn’t a bat!

  10. Came home this morning from work and noticed that we have another male roosting above our front door. We’ve had them in our house too. Im in Lubbock and have only seen these in the fall. I feel blessed to have one on the July 19th.

  11. I believe we have one on our back porch right now. It hasn’t moved in several hours. It is on the beam across the back porch.

  12. There has been one resting on my screen door all day. I had to visit quite a few websites to make the ID. I live outside of Nazareth, PA, so this is a rare moth for us to see. The really odd thing is that my son is coming home from Texas next week and he lived in Mexico for a short time.

    I would like to send a picture of the moth.

  13. I live in Las Vegas … I came home the other night to find a black witch moth by my porch… I thought it was a bat…It actually wow’d me..Ive never seen something so huge… this evening I learned a family member is passing… I brought up the moth during conversation and learned the moth appeared to notify us of a loved ones death…I then read about it and I am absolutely amazed… something so beautiful symbolizes death…. and the myths everyone tries to ignore in this day and age still exist

    • Hi Miranda
      I wrote a post last August about my
      dad passing the same time a black
      witch moth landed on my head in my
      kitchen in San Diego at 2 am. Since
      then I have also come into some
      inheritance monies, so both myths
      proved true to me…coming in to money as well as death of a loved one.

  14. Yesterday saw one in my sun pourch. Thought it was a bird. Waving hands trying to herd it towards the door. It went out then came back. Waved hands again and it left. Got on computer and looked up moths of Texas and there it was. First sighting for me. Huge!

    • Mine returned again! He was resting on the recliner i ait on. Saw him last week…my leg started hurting really bad to where i can’t walk…then got a call this morning from dr that i have a pinched nerve in my hip. Could the double sighting be a warning?

  15. Im in San Diego, and Im deathly afraid of insects. (Seriously, terrified) One of these black witch moths was flying in my work tonight, and I ran screaming from the room. A co-worker chased it with a broom, and it ended up flying into a chandelier cup up high, where it died shortly after from the heat of the light. Someone took it out, and it an exact match to the photo you have here of the female. This is the second time one has come after me, I dont kmow why. Nobody is more terrified of insects than me! I can see that it is truly beautiful, but I do not understand why they come after me when Im so scared of them. :(

  16. I have been blessed with many encounters with this moth, here in hawaii we believe it is a loved one come to visit, or say goodbye, one came on my moms birthday, she passed away 20 years before, and I found it passed away after photographing it where i work,( nursing home) I mounted it and gave to my father, he loves it. I have extensive photos of them, And find them most beautiful, I have a female in my chicken house right now, she loves hawaiian honey in water, and has been in my house for over 2 weeks now. I feel blessed when I encounter these special creatures, And have had so many encounters I have lost track. Aloha from Hawaii. They are all good.

  17. Hello from the desert of Joshua Tree California. I work at the local Copper Mountain Community College, and was notified by another coworker of the biggest moth he had ever see. When I went outside to look, I first thought it looked like a bat, and then I thought it may be a hawk moth. Thank you for clarifying for us. He mentioned it my be a reincarnation of his Uncle whom passed away this morning. A sign that his spirit is saying hello. Either way the beautiful creature is biggest moth I have EVER seen. After reading the various folklore, he and I are purchasing a lotto ticket together (just in-case). ;)

  18. I’m sitting here in my living room in Scottsdale, AZ, looking at one resting near the ceiling of my back balcony. My cat spotted it first, and when I looked to see what she was gazing at, I first thought it was a bat. It’s huge — the wingspan is easily 7 inches. Maybe I should buy some lottery tickets when I go out this evening?

  19. I was walking in the parking lot going to church and just looked down and saw this huge grayish blackish moth .
    I first thought it was a baby bat.
    What could this mean, I just recently started going back to church.
    I feel like God is trying to tell me something

  20. How thrilled am I to have seen this amazing creature…then to come upstairs and check the computer to find out what it was exactly and it leads me right to you. Doubly blessed. Not knowing any of the back story on this moth, at first both Paul and I wondered if it might be a bat. And, after observing that it wasn’t, I watched it in astonishment and thought to myself…is this a bad omen (and a blues song started playing referencing Lucifer…at which point I shut down my over active imagination). I love to be reminded that great nature is right in my backyard in the middle of the desert. Love you guys…miss you and San Anton…
    Love,
    Lisa

  21. I was putting my bike away and I live on Coronado an island off San Diego and a black witch moth flew by me and we took pictures and caught it we set it free but it says on the map none have been found in San Diego

  22. well…. Yesterday I had the most thrilling moment of my life watching a huge night butterfly, it was big like a bat and it came on my balcony through my plants. It was so silent for the size of it and as it flought front of my bird cage i saw that it had a small yellow-orange light on it. I was so stunned with the creature that my breath stoped. this is the only site with the same details (butterfly like a bat) that I found.. but I live in Greece. Really far from the places that exists. so maybe it was something else. If you know what it was please let me know. I was shocked by the light on the front. We don t have fireflies in Greece or so huge night butterflies. I thing you call them moths. So please tell me, what was it??? Thank you

  23. Found a large male (7″ wingspan) on the outside wall next to my office door in Sierra Vista, Arizona yesterday (15 September 2014). He is still there today. Guessing he is sitting out the heavy rains we will be receiving over the next couple of days before he resumes his journeys.

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