Black Witch moths are making themselves known in South Texas again. The large, harmless moths appear seasonally–we had one at the ranch this weekend.
Here’s a great shot from Karen Hermann of the fascinating creatures, which often roost in the eaves of front doors resulting in a creepy “startle factor” when they’re flushed by those returning home. Special thanks to entomologist extraoridnaire Mike Quinn of Austin-based www.texasento.net for helping gather much of the info for this post.
The intriguing Ascalapha odorata, sometimes known as “the bat moth” resembles a bat in size and shape and with its seven-inch wingspan is the largest moth in North America. They are common in these parts.
Reports of large, bat-like moths surprising people, frequently as they return home and are unlocking their front door, are not uncommon. Because of their dramatic size, when these big boys flush, they get your attention.
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 Black Witches’ large 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
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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