Moth That Looks Like a Bat: Fascinating Species Revealed

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The Black Witch Moth, a nocturnal marvel, has long captured the imagination of observers with its bat-like appearance and expansive wingspan.

As the largest moth in North America, its intricate wing patterns and unique behaviors make it a standout in the vast world of moths.

Delve into the captivating realm of the Black Witch Moth, from its cultural significance to its vital role in our ecosystem.

 

Moth That Looks Like a Bat
Black Witch
 

Moth That Looks Like a Bat

Black Witch Moth

The Black Witch Moth (Ascalapha odorata) is a large, nocturnal moth that bears a striking resemblance to a bat due to its size and wing shape.

Their wingspan can reach up to 7 inches, much larger than typical moths. The black and brown patterns of their wings add to their bat-like appearance.

Key Features:

  • Large wingspan up to 7 inches
  • Nocturnal behavior
  • Black and brown wing patterns

Other Bat-Like Moths

There are other interesting species of moths displaying bat-like features. Some of these include the:

  1. Death’s-head Hawkmoth: Known for the skull-like pattern on its thorax, this moth mimics bats with its rapid and agile flight.
  2. Hawk Moths: Also known as Sphinx Moths, these insects have distinct wing shapes like bats and can hover, allowing them to mimic the movements of certain bat species.

Comparison between Bat-Like Moths:

FeatureBlack Witch MothDeath’s-head HawkmothHawk Moths
SizeLarge (up to 7 inches)Medium to LargeMedium to Large
NocturnalYesYesYes
Mimic Bat AppearanceShape and sizeFlight agilityShape and movement
Unique CharacteristicsBrown wing patternsSkull-like thoraxAbility to hover

In conclusion, moth species such as the Black Witch Moth and the Death’s-head Hawkmoth exhibit bat-like features and behaviors, making them fascinating subjects for further study.

Despite variations in size and wing patterns, their nocturnal habits and unique characteristics serve to link them with their bat counterparts.

Black Witch

Physical Characteristics

Size and Wingspan

Ascalapha odorata, also known as the Black Witch moth, is the largest moth in North America with a wingspan ranging from 13-18 cm. Here’s a comparison of its size to another common moth:

Moth SpeciesWingspan Range (cm)
Ascalapha odorata13 – 18
Manduca sp.(Hawk Moth)7 – 14

Coloring

While these moths resemble bats in appearance, they have unique coloring. Key features include:

  • Mottled dark brown and gray colors
  • Zigzag patterns on wings
  • Pale bands along forewing edges

Eyes

Black Witch Moths rely on their eyes for navigation and finding food. As nocturnal creatures, they have:

  • Large, well-developed eyes
  • Exceptional night vision
  • Ability to see in low-light environments

Forewing

The forewings of the Ascalapha odorata have distinct characteristics:

  • Pale bands along the edges
  • Elongated shape, similar to a bat’s wings

This moth’s unique appearance, combined with its large size, makes it easily recognizable and differentiates it from other moth species.

Male Black Witch

Distribution and Habitat

North and Central America

In North and Central America, the Black Witch moth species can commonly be found in regions such as South Texas and throughout Mexico.

They often inhabit areas with abundant mesquite trees, as these provide suitable roosting locations. 

Due to climate change, their distribution patterns might be affected, leading to alterations in their established habitats.

South America and Caribbean

Moth-like bats are also present in parts of South America and the Caribbean. Their habitats vary according to environmental conditions and the availability of prey. 

Behavior

Black Witch moths are nocturnal and are often mistaken for bats due to their size and flight patterns.

For example, moths like these are found to fly at night and visit pale or white flowers that emit a strong fragrance, which attracts them for nectar consumption.

Black Witch Moth

Cultural Significance

Folklore and Mythology

In Mexico, the Black Witch Moth is also known as the Mariposa de la Muerte or butterfly of death.

It is believed to be a harbinger of death, especially when seen in the proximity of a sick person. In the Mayan culture, this moth was associated with the female deity, Ixchel.

In Jamaica, there is a moth called the Duppy Bat, believed to be a lost soul or bad luck symbol.

Brazilian and Bahamian folklore also have similar stories about moths as carriers of lost souls or bad luck.

Features of these moths in folklore and mythology:

  • Harbingers of death
  • Represent lost souls
  • Associated with bad luck and ill omens

Black Witch

Conclusion

Moths, with their diverse appearances and behaviors, play a crucial role in our ecosystem. The Black Witch Moth, in particular, stands out due to its bat-like appearance and significant wingspan.

Its nocturnal habits, cultural significance, and contribution to pollination highlight its importance.

Whether it’s their role in pollination or their deep-rooted cultural symbolism, moths like the Black Witch Moth continue to captivate and intrigue observers.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.fs.usda.gov/wildflowers/pollinators/animals/moths.shtml 2 3

  2. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/planthealth/plant-pest-and-disease-programs/pests-and-diseases/sa_insects/spongy-moth/

  3. https://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/there-are-alternatives-dangers-mothballs

Reader Emails

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

Letter 1 – Black Witch migrates to Wyoming

Subject: Large Moth
Location: Worland, WY
August 13, 2016 2:57 pm
Hello, I saw this on the wall of my house today. I live in northern WY. Any idea what it is? It appeared to be 4-5 inches across.
Signature: needarealname

Male Black Witch
Male Black Witch

Dear needarealname,
This is a male Black Witch,
Ascalapha odorata, and according to the Texas Entomology site, it is:  “is the largest moth, if not the largest insect, north of Mexico. ”  Though it has that distinction, it is a migrant species, though perhaps with global warming, it may have naturalized in areas close to the Mexican border. 

The Black Witch is a neotropical species, but it has been documented as far north as Canada since as far back as the nineteenth century, though no one really knows exactly what causes this southern species to fly north each year. 

Your individual looks quite tattered, which is to be expected after making a 1000 plus mile flight.  Each year in Mexico, at the start of monsoon season, Black Witch moths head north.  Interestingly, we received a report last year of a Cheyenne, Wyoming sighting of a Black Witch.

Letter 2 – Black Witch in Miami

Black Witch?
Hi,
My name is Alfred and I’m in Miami, Florida. I saw this moth one night late at night. It was fluttering around the spot light near it and seemed attracted to the light. Because of its attraction to the light, I thought it was a moth but wasn’t sure because of its size. The wingspan is about 6 inches in length. Is it a Black Witch?
Alfred

Hi Alfred,
This is indeed a Black Witch. Great photo as well.

Ed. Note: Caterpillars are often difficult to identify, and sadly, we weren’t much help to Enid, but as the following response shows, the caterpillars metamorphosed into a stunning little moth.

(07/19/2005) The psychedelic caterpillar becomes moth
Hello there. Remember the life jacket orange and metallic blue caterpillars? Well, this is what they become and it is called a faithful beauty and they are rare for West Palm Beach. Regards.
Enid

Hi Enid,
Your caterpillar photo was on our back burner, but we couldn’t really identify. Your Moth has a wonderful common name, Faithful Beauty, and the scientific name is Composia fidelissima.

It is mostly tropical but does stray into South Florida. Perhaps last year’s hurricanes blew a few moths off course and they liked the climate. Thanks so much for the update.

Letter 3 – Black Witch Moth

Black Witch Moth
We were directed to your site, and have never “bugged out” anywhere else. We love your site. I have included our moth picture taken in Key Largo, FL for your reference. Hope you like it, enjoy. Thanks,
The Ward Family

Dear Ward Family,
Thank you ever so much for sending in your gorgeous photo of a Black Witch Moth. It was our featured bug of the month for October.

Letter 4 – Black Witch in Texas

do you know what this is?
Bugman!
I have been searching on several identification sites for the correct ID of the lepidopteran in the two pictures I have attached. I have been unsuccessful in my pursuits, so I am posing the question to you, “What is that bug?”

This moth was photographed 24 July 2007 in Richardson, Texas (suburb of Dallas, Texas). I apologize for the lack of information, and there are no good pictures of the underside of the wings. I would love to know if you can still ID this lepidopteran!
Amy Jones

Hi Amy,
This gorgeous creature is a Black Witch, Ascalapha odorata. You photo shows what big eyes they have. Amusingly, we just received a request to created a dedicated Black Witch page, and we will start with your image.

Thank you!!! That was such a quick answer…I am impressed! Thank you for maintaining your website because it really helps the amateur entomologist!

Letter 5 – Black Witch in Los Angeles

ID this moth please
Hello-
This hug moth flew into my house tonight and I have never seen a moth this big. I am in Los Angeles. This moth is as big if not bigger than a Marnarch butter fly. Will this moth get into my clothes? The wing span is around 5 inches. Thanks
Clay

Hi Clay,
This is a Black Witch, a species common in Mexico. For some inexplicable reason, the species flies north, as far as Canada, and there are sightings from virtually all of the continental United States. The species also breeds in Hawaii.

There is a report of caterpillars found on Acacia in West Los Angeles, and they are believed to also breed in Texas and Florida. They will not harm your clothes, but there are numerous superstitions concerning the Black Witch from Mexico, Hawaii and other places where it is commonly found.

Letter 6 – Black Witch sucking on a Peach

California – Moth with 6-8″ wingspan and headlight??
While looking for raccoons that had been eating our peaches, we saw what looked like a single eye looking back at the flashlight. As we moved in closer we thought it was some kind of fruit bat. But the wings were too straight, and it had too many legs (or appeared to – we really didn’t get that close!)

My husband said it looked like some kind of moth, the boys and I thought he had to be wrong – no moth was that big – but after looking at the picture and your website, I thought he might be right. It looked like a single eye with the flash light, but the pictures looks more like some kind of reflector on the front and the eyes on the side.

It’s wingspan was atleast 6”, looked more like 7 or 8”. (The peach it’s on is about 2.5”). Any ideas on what this thing is? Thanks
Marti

Hi Marti,
Your moth is a neotropical species, the Black Witch. It is now generally believed that the Black Witch does breed in Southern California, Florida and probably Southern Texas. Black Witch sightings occur from as far north as Canada. This large Noctuid moth is capable of flying great distances.

The Black Witch in your photo is being opportunistic, by taking advantage of the raccoon bite in the peach which has revealed the succulent pulp. Moths cannot bite. They each have a strawlike mouthpart known as a proboscis. The headlight is a reflection of the flashlight in the eye.

Letter 7 – Black Witch in Texas

do you know what this is?
Bugman!
I have been searching on several identification sites for the correct ID of the lepidopteran in the two pictures I have attached. I have been unsuccessful in my pursuits, so I am posing the question to you, “What is that bug?”

This moth was photographed 24 July 2007 in Richardson, Texas (suburb of Dallas, Texas). I apologize for the lack of information, and there are no good pictures of the underside of the wings. I would love to know if you can still ID this lepidopteran!
Amy Jones

Hi Amy,
This gorgeous creature is a Black Witch, Ascalapha odorata. You photo shows what big eyes they have. Amusingly, we just received a request to created a dedicated Black Witch page, and we will start with your image.

Thank you!!! That was such a quick answer…I am impressed! Thank you for maintaining your website because it really helps the amateur entomologist!

Letter 8 – NOT Black Witch Pupa (Pink Spotted Swallowtail) and adult Black Witch

Black Witch Metamorphosis
Location:  San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
September 26, 2010 11:28 am
Daniel,
Here are a couple images of a Black Witch moth from cocoon to maturity. Unfortunately, I can’t find an image of the caterpillar that I took to round out the whole cycle. As usual, when we were at our home in Mexico in August there were several caterpillars crawling around in anticipation of cocooning.

They were fat, bird dropping mimics and about 2 inches long. You can’t tell too well from my photo, but the cats girdled themselves with a silk ”hanger” much like swallowtails, so that’s what I thought they were. Couldn’t find them online, so I asked our renters to take a picture for me after we left (August 14) so I might be able to identify the outcome.

Wow, was I surprised when they sent me this photo today! Clearly a Black Witch male. The time from cocoon to emergence was about 5 – 6 weeks — early August to Sept 15.
I thought you might enjoy adding this to your files on the Black Witch. My apologies for the less than stellar images, but at least it gives you an idea.
Signature:  Stefanie

Not Black Witch Pupa

Hi Stephanie,
We are positively thrilled to post your partial documentation of a Black Witch metamorphosis.  The information on the pupa is very interesting, though it is difficult in the photo to make out the silken girdle you mention.  Should you happen upon the photo of the caterpillar, please send it at a later date.

UPDATE: Black Witch Metamorphosis Update
Location:  San Miguel de Allende`
September 26, 2010 12:37 pm
Daniel,
I sent an earlier email on this but am now questioning the veracity of the Black Witch coming from the cocoon I photographed in early August. I did some research and have found that Black Witches pupate rather than form a cocoon.

So I doubt that the Black Witch in the photo my renter sent me came from the cocoon I photographed. I fear the cocoon remains a mystery.
Signature:  Stefanie

Thanks for the additional information Stephanie.  The photo does show a bare pupa, not a cocoon, so you may still be correct.  We will try to locate a photo of a Black Witch Pupa to confirm.

Daniel,
When I searched for images of the Black Witch lifecycle to confirm what I’d found and see other images, the pupa looked like something you find under ground. But that was only one site.

On another, it talked about a cocoon. So I’ll be interested in what you or other readers have to say. Certainlly we have the right type of vegetation for Black Witch caterpillars which feed on mesquite, for one thing.
Stefanie

Hi Stephanie,
In attempting to research this posting more thoroughly, we found a Texas Entomology website with a page on the Life Cycle Photographs and rearing Note on the Black Witch, and it contains an image of a bare pupa. 

Sadly, the quality of the image you sent of the alleged Black Witch Pupa is of low quality, but it looks more to us like a larva than a pupa, but a larva that is getting ready to pupate, meaning that the caterpillar skin has still not been shed. 

The markings do somewhat resemble the markings of the Black Witch Caterpillars on the web page with the pupa image.  Sadly, there is no information on where the moth pupates.  The Texas Entomology website also has a web page entitled The Black Witch:  Its Natural and Cultural History, but again, no description of the pupa, nor have we had any luck locating an image of a Black Witch Pupa. 

This posting may remain a mystery, however we are going to continue to report your observations that the caterpillar of the Black Witch may construct a silken girdle for the pupa.

Final Conclusion:  Not Black Witch Pupa
September 27, 2010
Hi Daniel,

I believe  I’ve solved the mystery and can now say that it’s NOT a Black Witch. After I began to have doubts I remembered that the pic I sent you of the “cocoon” was, as you say, still in the transformation into a pupa. I cannot find any pictures that I thought I took of the final stage but they looked like a stick and you could definitely see the silk girdle.

I’ve done some more searching based on what I remember the cat and pupa looking like and found the site Interactive Listing of Mexican Butterflies (Mariposas Mexicanas) website. Based on the appearance of the cat being a bird dropping mimic and its eventual metamorphosis into a pupa that looked twiglike and was held with a girdle, I believed it must be a swallowtail of some sort and so

I began looking through all the species for a picture of the cat and chrysalis. I now believe it is a Pink-spotted Swallowtail, papilio rogeri pharnaces. Here is the exact link: http://www.mariposasmexicanas.com/papilio_heraclides_rogeri_pharnaces.htm. If you scroll to the bottom you will see both the caterpillar and the pupa, both exactly as I remember, the cat resemblling bird droppings but also slightly snakelike and the pupa looking like a twig.  Thanks for your extra research on this. My further reading tells me that the larva feed on citrus and we have a young lime tree in our yard. I only wish I could see the butterfly!

Thanks for keeping us informed Stephanie.

Letter 9 – Black Witch in Missouri

Type of Moth
Location:  Independence, MO
September 29, 2010 1:04 pm
This moth appeared on our back porch yesterday and we have never seen anything that big before. The wings measure 5 1/2 inches from tip to tip. What type of moth is this?
Signature:  Angie Poe

Black Witch

Hi Angie,
This is a female Black Witch and your sighting is unusual because the Black Witch is a neotropical species that is found in Mexico, and does not breed in the U.S. except near the southern border. 

For over 100 years, there has been documentation of the fall migration of Black Witches north, as far away as Canada, but the reason for these migrations is unclear as the moths will not survive the winter, cannot mate without their food plants, and do not return.

Letter 10 – Black Witch in Mount Washington

Subject:  Recent photos at our home
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
September 13, 2015
Sandy and Bettie

Black Witch
Black Witch

Dear Sandy and Bettie,
Your large moth is a Black Witch.  Native to Central and South America, Black Witch Moths have been reported to migrate north during Mexican monsoons every fall, and they have been known to reach as far north as the northern border states and even into Canada. 

Your individual is a female, as evidenced by the light diagonal markings across the wings.  Though they are frequently found in Los Angeles, a Black Witch sighting is always an exciting event.

Letter 11 – Black Witch in Los Angeles

Subject: Black Witch Moth?
Location: Los Angeles, California
November 18, 2016 8:07 pm
I took a picture of what I think may be a Black Witch moth. It was resting on my patio screen door this afternoon. I have never seen a moth that large. Its wing span was about 4 inches tip to tip.
Signature: Pat K.

Black Witch
Black Witch

Dear Pat,
Congratulations on your Black Witch sighting, though we believe you may have underestimated its size. 

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
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11 Comments. Leave new

  • I love everything about these moths.

    Reply
    • :), me,too.. I saw one in August 2010 by Universal Studios Hollywood, in the La La Land area, underneath the 101 Freeway Bridge over Lankershim blvd.(or whatever runs by Universal Tour.,) Probaly a female in the case I had, as it was real large–spread over a crack on the side, vertically,e.g. one wing tip top (no pun!) one on bottom.

      Reply
  • Just found one in Riverton Wyoming today!

    Reply
    • we also got a sighting from Cheyenne this week: Black Witch moth flying around our home about 10 miles north of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Spotted on July 1, 2020 at around 4pm fluttering by our back door.

      Reply
  • I just seen 2 in my back yard in Rock springs Wyoming. Looked like they were a breading pair. Thought they were bats until they landed. One of them was very huge. Much bigger than pics Ive seen on internet. Had to be at least 9 inches across both wings.

    Reply
    • Thanks for this report. We wonder why so many Black Witch sightings have been occurring in Wyoming.

      Reply
  • I just drove home with one in my car from the Flaming Gorge. ?

    Reply
  • I just drove home with one in my car from the Flaming Gorge. ????

    Reply
  • Saw what I thought was a bat in my shop…turned out to be one of these buggers! Located just north of Laramie

    Reply
  • Just found one in Homa Hills 10 miles north of Casper.

    Reply
  • One just flew out from Under my horse blanket in the barn and landed on a rafter. Galveston, Texas area

    Reply

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