Black Witch Moth Symbolism: Unraveling the Mystery Behind This Intriguing Insect

The Black Witch Moth, scientifically known as Ascalapha odorata, is a fascinating creature with deep cultural symbolism.

With a wingspan of up to 7 inches, it is the largest insect in the continental United States and can easily be mistaken for a bat due to its nocturnal habits and long forewings.

In various cultures, the Black Witch Moth is associated with different beliefs and superstitions.

Black Witch Moth Symbolism

For instance, in some regions, it is considered as a harbinger of bad luck or even death, while in others, its presence can be interpreted as a visit from the spirit of a deceased loved one.

This intriguing insect has captivated the attention of many people, and understanding its symbolism can lead to a deeper appreciation of its unique place in our natural world.

Black Witch Moth Symbolism and Folklore

Death and Misfortune

The Black Witch Moth, also known as Ascalapha odorata, is often associated with death and misfortune.

In some cultures, it is believed that the appearance of a black moth in your house can be a bad omen, attracting death, or symbolizing the spirit of someone who has died or is going to die 1.

Folklore around the black moth varies across cultures, but a common theme is the connection to negative events. 

Spiritual Meaning and Transformation

Aside from the darker symbolism, Black Witch Moths can also represent transformation and spiritual meaning.

Much like other moths and butterflies, their process of metamorphosis from caterpillar to winged creature is a symbol of change, growth, and development in one’s life.

The nocturnal nature of these moths can also be seen as a metaphor for the journey from darkness to light. 

Black Witch

Cultural History and Mythology

The Black Witch Moth has a rich cultural history across the Americas, as well as in African American and Caribbean folklore.

For instance, in some Central American cultures, these moths are called “Mariposa de la Muerte” (Butterfly of Death) and are believed to bring news of a deceased loved one.

Interestingly, Mexican folklore views the moth as a symbol of protection against evil spirits 2.

In African American and Caribbean folklore, black moths can be connected to witchcraft or magic 3. This further contributes to the wide range of meanings and symbolism associated with the Black Witch Moth. To summarize:

  • Rich cultural history across the Americas, Caribbean, and African American folklore
  • Can represent protection against evil spirits or connections to witchcraft and magic

Physical Characteristics and Behavior

Wingspan and Appearance

The Black Witch Moth (Ascalapha odorata) is the largest insect in the continental United States.

Its wingspan can reach up to 7 inches. The moth’s long forewings give it a unique appearance, making it resemble a bat.

Black Witch

Nocturnal Habits

Black Witch Moths are nocturnal creatures, meaning they are active during the night.

Their dark appearance helps them blend in with their surroundings, making it easier for them to avoid predators.

Caterpillar and Moth Development

The life cycle of the Black Witch Moth consists of several stages, from larva (caterpillar) to a cocoon, and finally, the adult moth. Here are some key features of its development:

  • Moth lays eggs, which hatch into larva (caterpillars)
  • Caterpillars eat leaves and grow larger through a series of molts
  • Once fully grown, the caterpillar forms a cocoon to undergo metamorphosis
  • The adult moth emerges from the cocoon, ready to mate and lay eggs

Comparison table of moth development stages:

StageCharacteristics
LarvaEats leaves, goes through molts
CocoonProtects during metamorphosis
Adult MothNocturnal, large wingspan, reproduces

In summary, the Black Witch Moth’s fascinating physical characteristics and nocturnal habits make it stand out among the thousands of moth species found in the Americas.

Its life cycle, from caterpillar to adult moth, is a perfect illustration of the intricate process of metamorphosis in the insect world.

Black Witch Moth in Popular Culture

Silence of the Lambs

In the movie Silence of the Lambs, the Black Witch Moth is used as a symbol of transformation and darkness.

The moth is shown on the cover of the movie, and also plays a key role within the film, representing the antagonist’s desire for change.

Black Witch

Good Luck

Contrary to the ominous symbolism in Silence of the Lambs, the Black Witch Moth is also considered a symbol of good luck in some cultures, conveying messages of:

  • Trust
  • Inspiration
  • Positive change

The different cultural perceptions of the Black Witch Moth emphasize the importance of understanding and respecting individual beliefs and traditions.

Conclusion

The Black Witch Moth, scientifically known as Ascalapha odorata, is a remarkable creature that has intrigued many due to its vast wingspan, nocturnal habits, and deep cultural symbolism.

Found across various regions, from the tropics of the Americas to Hawaii, this moth has adapted to diverse habitats.

While in some cultures it’s seen as a symbol of death or misfortune, in others, it represents transformation or even prosperity.

Its unique appearance, behavior, and the rich folklore surrounding it make the Black Witch Moth a truly captivating subject in the world of entomology.

 

Footnotes

  1. USC Digital Folklore Archives 2 3 4

  2. Field Station, Black Witch Moth 2

  3. Library of Congress Blogs 2

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about Black Witch Moths. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Black Witch

large moth
July 17, 2010
Location:  Colorado Springs, CO
Hello Bugman,
This large moth was found on a neighbor’s driveway. giant silk moth perhaps?
Execut1ve

Black Witch

Dear Executive,
This magnificent male Black Witch,
Ascalapha odorata, is a subtropical and tropical species that has been reported to migrate north for well over a century for unknown reasons.  These migrations were once seasonal, occurring in the fall, but more and more frequently, sightings north of the Mexican border are being reported. 

There is some indication that the species is now breeding in the southern parts of the U.S.  There are many interesting myths associated with the Black Witch.  Females of the species are identified by diagonal lighter markings on the wings.  The Black Witch is not a Giant Silkmoth, but rather a member of the enormous superfamily Noctuoidea.

Letter 2 – Black Witch

Any ideas what this is? I live in Arizona and this big huge moth thing flew into my patio one day, I looked online and it looked like a Giant Wich Moth. I am I right?
Brandi Diaz

You are absolutely right Brandi. It is a Black Witch, Ascalapha odorata.

Letter 3 – Black Witch

Huge moth
Wow, what a great site! I couldn’t have found it at a better time. I hope you’ll be able to help with this one. I live in central Texas, and not long ago some co-workers and I noticed a type of moth that we have never seen before. it’s BIG.

I measured it at 6 3/4″ wingspan, tip-to-tip. I suspect it’s a female Imperial moth, but the colors and the pattern don’t match. But it’s the only moth species I could find taht came close to that size. here’s a photo. Can you identify his one?
–Dan

Hi Dan,
Erebus odora is commonly known as The Black Witch. It is very common in the tropical regions of Central and South America, and can also be found occasionally in Florida and the Gulf states.

Occasionally specimens, usually females, are found in the North. When they fly around lights at night, they look like enormous bats. When I stayed in a country home in Mexico, they commonly flew into the house and rested on the walls near the ceiling until nightfall, when they would fly away. Thank you for the great photo.

Daniel,
That’s great! Thanks for clearing that up. Yes, when people saw it they at first thought it was a bat. I don’t know why, as it was just sitting on the wall. Clearly not a bat–I’m in Austin, home of the largest urban bat colony in the country (world?), and see bats daily during the summer.

But when I nudged it–which is what it took to get it going, as it didn’t care how close we got to it–it did indeed look like a big, slow flying bat. Hope to see the photo on the website soon. 🙂
–Dan

Letter 4 – Black Witch

Unidentified Moth
I took a picture of this huge moth (almost 6″ across) in the Mayan Riviera in Mexico in December 2005. It was sitting on the top doorframe of our hotel room. Can you identify it ??
Thanks,
Ron Boss

Hi Ron,
The Black Witch is a very common Noctuid Moth in Mexico. It is frequently found in the southern state, usually in the fall, and has been known to migrate as far north as Canada.

Letter 5 – Black Witch

Big Moth
Hi, I found this large (~5″ wingspan) moth in our beach hotel in Playa del
Carmen, Mexico in late December. I’m guessing it’s a saturniid but can’t find any pictures to narrow it down. Can you help? I’ve been searching the Web for hours! Gracias,
Liz Gerson

Hi Liz,
The reason you couldn’t find the Black Witch, Ascalapha odorata, is because it isn’t a Saturnid, but a Noctuid, one of the Owlet Moths.

Wow, thank you so much! It was really “bugging” me that I couldn’t find it. Now I am finding there’s some scary mythology about this moth in Mexico. It’s an interesting critter.
Mythology from http://texasento.net/witch.htm
“The Black Witch has a fascinating cultural as well as natural history. Known in Mexico by the Indians since Aztec times as mariposa de la muerte (butterfly of death). When there is sickness in a house and this moth enters, the sick person dies. (Hoffmann 1918)

A variation on this theme heard in the lower Rio Grande Valley (Southmost Texas) is that death only occurs if the moth flies in and visits all four corners of one’s house. Merlmn & Vasquez (2002) point out that the number four is important in Mesoamerica because of its relationship with the four cardinal directions (east, west, north and south). The moth was known among the Mexicans as Micpapalotl, the butterfly of death.

In Mesoamerica, from the prehispanic era until the present time nocturnal butterflies have been associated with death and the number four. In some parts of Mexico, people joke that if one flies over someone’s head, the person will lose his hair. Still another myth: seeing one means that someone has put a curse on you!

In Hawaii, Black Witch mythology, though associated with death, has a happier note in that if a loved one has just died, the moth is an embodiment of the person’s soul returning to say goodbye. On Cat Island, Bahamas, they are locally known as Money Moths or Moneybats, and the legend is that if they land on you, you will come into money.

Similarly in South Texas if a Black Witch lands above your door and stays there for a while you would win the lottery! Note: the Black Witch moth does not bite, sting, nor carry diseases. It has only a straw-like proboscis or tongue to drink flower nectar through. It is perfectly harmless though it might cause one to be quite startled if flushed from its daytime hiding place.”
Thanks again,
Liz

Letter 6 – Black Witch

What kind of moth is this?
Joe Greco

Black Witch

Update:
(10/15/2005) Black Witch
Hola Bugman,
You seem to be relying on some outdated sources of information about the black witch moth, namely: Covell, C.V. 1984. Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. Powell, J.A. & C.L. Hogue. 1979. California Insects. University of California Press, Berkeley. 388 pp. Current taxonomy is: Ascalapha odorata.

Both males and females (in equal proportions) migrate north starting at the end of May, not late summer. They regularly (probably annually) reach Canada, as I know of some 30 Canadian records. They are actually most common across the Southwest, not in the Gulf coast states of LA, MISS, Alabama…

They do breed in the US as larvae have been found in Southmost Texas and due to their abundance in Florida, they much breed there as well. More BWM info here: North American Black Witch Records http://www.texasento.net/witchna.htm
Natural History of the Black Witch http://www.texasento.net/witch.htm
Black Witch – Storm Information www.texasento.net/witch_storm.htm
Early Northern 2005 BWM Records www.TexasEnto.net/witch_north.htm
Hope this helps…
Mike
Texas Entomology
www.TexasEnto.net

Letter 7 – Black Witch

Nigth Butterfly
Hi there, I am a huge fan of all kind of living things and everytime I have the chance to take a picture of an uncommon situation or visitor like in this case, I simply love it. After sending the picture to you guys I have made some researches and found out that this nocturnal butterfly has the common name as: The Black Witch.

The scientific name is Ascalapha Adorata. I also think this is a male. I believe this beatiful visitor entered last night to rest and for its good I hope tonight continues his journey because I am afraid someone could have the bad idea to kill it since this is not very common to have in the house and because of its looks.

Well hope you like it because I like your site. I visit it everytime I found a new species for me. By the way, my name is Federico Fontana, I am argentinian and actually I am in Salvador de Bahia, in Brazil. There is where i found this beautiful animal. Take care,
Federico Fontana

Hi Federico,
Thanks so much for sending your photo of a Black Witch Moth, Ascalapha odorata. We get photos of this species from parts of the U.S., especially Texas and Florida, in October. It truly is a beautiful moth.

Letter 8 – Black Witch

This was in my yard in Torreon Mexico this evening
It measures 6-7 inches across can you tell me what it is? I am a novice & am not certain if it is in the butterfly or in the moth family. Thank you for your help. Sincerely,
Dee Kincke

Hi Dee,
This is a Black Witch Moth, a large owlet moth. We are contemplating using this species as the Bug of the month for October because we get so many inquiries from north of the border in the autumn. They are attracted to lights.

Letter 9 – Black Witch

Moth size of Giant Swallowtail
Location:  Seminole, Florida
July 20, 2011  10:14 AM
Hi Daniel
Saw this at about 7:30a.m. today in front yard. I thought it
was a bat at first. Seminole ,Florida 33776
No exageration – it is the size of a “Giant” – Giant Swallowtail.
Sorry the pics aren’t better.
Do you know what it is?
Have a Great Day!
Brent

Black Witch

Hi Brent,
Your moth is a male Black Witch.  Females have light bands across the wings.  The Black Witch is a species associated with more tropical climates, though their northern migrations have been recorded for more that 100 years.  It is unclear why so many individuals fly north, as far as Canada, since their food plant, the acacia, does not grow in the North. 

In recent years, the Black Witch has been reported to breed in the southernmost U.S.  We may be witnessing a range expansion due to global warming.  According to BugGuide:  “The northward migration out of Mexico is triggered by Mexico’s rainy season which typically starts in early June and lasts through October. Most US records are from June-August, with a considerable number of records from September-Novermber. [sic] Very few US records from December-May.”

Letter 10 – Black Witch

big moth
Location: San Pedro California
September 28, 2011 9:23 pm
This big moth, or whatever it is was found in the eaves om my neighbors house. I would guess it’s about 6 inches wing tip to wing tip.
Signature: Delbert Crawford

Black Witch

Hi Delbert,
Your moth is a Black Witch, a common species in Mexico and Central America.  As early as the late 19th Century, there were reports of Black Witches making northern migrations in the fall, and they are sometimes found as far north as Canada. 

In recent years, Black Witches have naturalized in the states closest to the Mexican border.  Perhaps global warming is contributing to the northern range expansion.  The white diagonal bars on the wings indicates that your specimen is a female Black Witch.

Letter 11 – Black Witch

Subject: large moth
Location: Rio Medina, Texas
July 12, 2012 11:56 am
Good Morning, saw this moth on the back deck this morning. I can’t seem to find it or the name of it.
Thanks from South Central Texas
Signature: Richard

Black Witch

Dear Richard,
This spectacular moth is a male Black Witch (see BugGuide for explanation), a species from Mexico and Central America that has been periodically reported flying north as far as Canada for no apparent reason. 

More recently it has been reported to be breeding in the southernmost United States, most likely because its food plants Cassia and Acacia are commonly grown in gardens, though we suspect global warming might also be a factor. 

There are many superstitions about the Black Witch and you can read about them on the Texas Entomology website, where this one is mentioned:  ” Similarly in South Texas if a Black Witch lands above your door and stays there for a while you would win the lottery!”  Let us know if you hit it big.  

Letter 12 – Black Witch

Subject: What kind of moth is this
Location: Virginia Beach , Va
June 14, 2013 7:07 am
What a gorgeous moth with a 5 in wing span. Literally as big as my hand . Please let me know what kind it is. Been in Virginia Beach for over 20 years and I’ve never seem one like this. Thanks!
Signature: Jennifer T

Black Witch
Black Witch

Dear Jennifer,
This is a male Black Witch, a species that has annual migrations north from Mexico each year with some individuals reaching Canada. 

These migrations have been documented since the nineteenth century, but it is unclear why the migrations occur since the species cannot survive or reproduce north of the border states.  The Black Witch Moth: Its Natural and Cultural History should answer any additional questions you might have.

Thank You for the quick response!   I looked thru so many photos and they all started to look the same. What a fantastic website!

Letter 13 – Black Witch

Subject: Moth
Location: San Fernando, CA
August 22, 2014 5:31 pm
Friend found this in his home in San Fernando, CA. It’s huge
Signature: J Lytle

Black Witch
Black Witch

Dear J Lytle,
This impressive moth is a Black Witch, and they are found in the American neotropics.  They are a common species in Mexico and each year at the end of summer, individuals fly north, some reaching as far north as Alaska. 

Though they are unable to naturalize in the northern climes, larvae have been found in Southern California, though most sightings in the continental US are of migrants.  This individual is a male Black Witch.

Thanks so much for the information. I have a copy of Hogue’s Insects of the LA Basin, and the Black Witch photo didn’t look like this, but all your sources do!
Best,
Jeanie Lytle

The illustration in Hogue is a female Black Witch.

Letter 14 – Black Witch

Subject: Please Identify
Location: San Antonio, TX 78229
September 15, 2014 2:05 pm
I suspect this is a moth? I found it on my car when I left work on Sunday September 14th around 11:30pm. I live in San Antonio, Texas and I saw it in the 78229 zip code. Let me know if you need more information.
Thank you
Signature: Ray Silva

Black Witch
Black Witch

Hi Ray,
This spectacular moth is a Black Witch,
Ascalapha odorata, a species that has naturalized in the southernmost parts of the U.S., but most individuals migrate north from Mexico during the fall months.  See BugGuide for additional information.

Letter 15 – Black Witch

Subject:  Big brown winged bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Pearland, TX
Date: 09/13/2017
Time: 05:02 PM EDT
Wow–big wing span spread on my screened window.
How you want your letter signed:  Anyway you want to.

Black Witch

This is a very worn Black Witch Moth, a species that often flies North from Mexico each year.  Some individuals have been reported as far north as Canada.

Letter 16 – Black Witch

Subject:  Huge moth
Geographic location of the bug:  Fort Collins, CO
Date: 07/12/2018
Time: 03:56 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Saw this last night putting out the dog around 1:30 am.  Never seen one that big ever.  Black Witch??
How you want your letter signed:  Mark

Black Witch

Dear Mark,
This is indeed a male Black Witch.  According to BugGuide:  “The northward June migration out of Mexico coincides with Mexico’s rainy season which typically starts in early June and lasts through October.”

29 thoughts on “Black Witch Moth Symbolism: Unraveling the Mystery Behind This Intriguing Insect”

  1. Hey, I am Westminster CO, right now looking at one of these super cool moths! I think it is a female because it has the pale wing marking that run diagonally across her back about 2/3 of the way down the wing.
    This thing is flipping awesome. How could anyone be afraid of it?

    Reply
  2. Hey. I live in Maracaibo, Venezuela, and there’s quite a few of these around. I’ve gotten used to them flying in my room and staying there. I usually just leave them be and they fly off eventually, but I’ve had a few slower ones unable to find the exit who start banging themselves against doors and walls, which makes a good bit of noise.

    I’ve no interest in harming them – I rather like having them around – but I’d like to be able to get rid of them when I have to. It may sound silly, but I’ve always been rather weary of touching them – product of some misremembered story about them giving off a dust that made one blind, and the fact that they are feared by almost everyone around here – and I’d like some confirmation on how this is ridiculous before I actually try to touch one 😛

    Reply
    • There are many superstitions about Black Witch moths, but they are perfectly harmless. If you handle them, scales from the wings, which appears to be dust, will be left on your hands, but it is perfectly harmless.

      Reply
  3. I just found one of these on my patio attached to the side of the house. Wing spread measures 7″. We’re in Ft. Collins 2 miles east of I25. No light color so must be male.

    Reply
  4. I live in Longmont, CO and saw one of these male Black Witch moths on the side of my house last night. Its wings were dark brown and pretty tattered compared to the other pix I have seen, so it has probably had a long, rough life. Maybe they are migrating further North? I hope so, it was awesome!

    Reply
  5. just found one on my house. I live in Ellicott, CO which is about 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. I have a pic if you want it.

    Reply
  6. Just found a Black Witch Moth on the wall of our house, in Eastern Wisconsin. Definitely out of it’s normal range… looks a bit beaten up, so it may have blown in on a storm.

    Reply
  7. These incredible moths must be making the rounds of Colorado. We live in Palmer Lake, CO which is a few miles north-west of Colorado Springs. We have one hanging by the eave of our house’s west wall. At first I thought it was a bat because of the coloring and the size. I can’t get a good pic with my camera, but my binoculars show the coloring of a male. What fun!

    Reply
  8. I found a very battered brown moth in the grass. I live at 5500′ elevation in southern Montana.
    It has a 6″ wingspread and the wing is 2 1/4″wide. There is a bluish “eyespot an inch 1/4from the body center. The back wing has 3 “arches” marks on its lower edgeThere are some wavy lines across the wings.

    Reply
  9. One of these was banging against the kitchen window last night trying to get in. Thought it was a bat at first. Littleton CO

    Reply
  10. My son just spotted a male Black Witch moth on our front porch in Anaheim, CA. It’s 8″ across. I wish I knew how to post a photo here.

    Reply
  11. I just found one outside of my apartment it was huge never have I seen something this big I was a bit freaked out over at first but I did manage to get pictures how do I post them?

    Reply
  12. Found two Black Witch moth’s in central Denver last night in our closet and this morning a second in the garage. Do they usually fly in pairs? Stunning wing span and coloring, it was late at night so we simply used a shop vac to remove it from the house and release it into the air this morning.

    Reply
  13. We just found one near Ridgway at 7600 feet. It was in good shape, a really fast, somewhat erratic flyer, and simply stunning.

    Reply

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