Tuesday, July 19, 2016

July 10, 2016: Black Witch Moth

And so the synchronicity continues.  This morning, I was visited by the black witch moth, otherwise known as the butterfly of death.  This is a very large brown moth often mistaken as a bat, found mostly in the Caribbean, Mexico and the upper South American continent, with some species found in Hawaii. 

Here is some information I found about my visitor:

Facts and Legends of the Black Witch Moth

The Ascalapha Odorata, or black witch moth, is a large bat-shaped, dark-colored nocturnal moth. The moth is quite distinctive, with a wingspan sometimes exceeding 7 inches. It is not actually black, but a variegated dark brown marked with zigzag black lines and faint touches of pink and lavender.  The black witch moth is found throughout Central America and Mexico, with its distribution extending from Brazil to the southern United States. It is the largest noctuid found in the continental United States.

In Spanish it is known as "Mariposa de la Muerte" (Mexico & Costa Rica), "Pirpinto de la Yeta" (Argentina), "Tara Bruja" (Venezuela) or simply "Mariposa negra" (Colombia); in Nahuatl (Mexico) it is "Miquipapalotl" or "Tepanpapalotl" (miqui = death, black + papalotl = moth); in Quechua (Peru) it is "Taparaco"; in Mayan (Yucatán) it is "X-mahan-nah" (mahan = to borrow + nah = house); in Jamaica and the Caribbean, the moth is known as the "Duppy Bat" or "Money moth". Other names for the moth include the Papillion-devil, La Sorcière Noire, or the Mourning or Sorrow moth.

Like many moths, the Black Witch only flies at night. It may hang under eaves or cars to sleep through a day or two in its migration. The black witch can only suck up nourishment through a straw-like proboscis that is coiled on its head in flight. The odor of soft overripe fruit attracts it, and so does the alcohol that forms when fruit decays. Food must be a pulpy liquid for the moth to be able to eat it.

The beginning of the rainy season in Mexico, in spring, triggers the first northward migration, and overlapping generations of the moths move north through the warm months. They are common in the American desert southwest, but stragglers have been seen in New Jersey and even Alaska. They are also known in Hawaii, although they are not native there. They breed year around where conditions permit. In fall, they pull back southward.

The larva feed on acacia, mesquite and locust, and Candle Bush, Woman’s Tongue, and Texas Ebony. They are large, nearly 3 inches long, and pale gray tinged with brown. They have stripes and spots that help them blend in with the bark of the plants that are their food.

The adult moth, the imago, is bat-like in form and flight, inspiring many superstitious beliefs throughout its range. Its large size, silent movement, and nocturnal activity are associated for us with the ancient terrors of night.  In general it is an omen of bad luck. If it flies into a house in Mexico where someone is ill, that person will surely die. This belief has been modified in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas so that the moth must fly in and visit all four corners of the house for the spell to take effect.  In some Caribbean populations, the Sorciere Noire is believed to be an actual witch in disguise, and to see it means someone has cast an evil spell on you. In Jamaica it is called a Duppy Bat, and believed to be a lost soul. In parts of the Bahamas, folklore calls them Moneybats, and tells that they bring prosperity. In Hawaii, where the huge moths are only occasionally seen, some people claim that the black witch is a dead friend come to say goodbye.

The novel Silence of the Lambs uses the pupa of the Black Witch moth as a prop. However, in the film version, its place is taken by the less subtly unsettling Deaths-head Hawkmoth.

I was not unsettled by this visit at all; in fact, I saw this as an indication that Haftorang was aware of my efforts.

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