Black Witch moths, scientifically known as Ascalapha odorata, are fascinating creatures often found in the tropical regions of the Americas.
With their impressively large size and wingspan of up to 7 inches, these moths might remind you of bats due to their long forewings and nocturnal habits.
Now, you might be curious about what these intriguing insects eat. Well, as caterpillars, Black Witch moth larvae primarily feed on the leaves of various plants, allowing them to grow and eventually transform into fully-fledged moths.
Understanding their diet can help you better appreciate their role in the ecosystem and their overall life cycle.
Male Black Witch
You might be curious about the physical features of the black witch moth. These moths are known for their distinct appearance and large size.
Wingspan: The wingspan of black witch moths is quite impressive, usually ranging from 4 to 7 inches, with females being slightly larger than males.
Wing Color: The color of the wings in male and female black witch moths varies. Males possess mottled brown wings that help them blend in with their surroundings. On the other hand, females have a darker shade, which can be mistaken for black.
Forewings: An interesting aspect of the black witch moth’s appearance is the patterning on its forewings. These patterns can sometimes appear like the silhouette of a witch or wizard, which is likely why they are called “black witch.”
Here is a quick comparison of the physical features of male and female black witch moths:
|Around 4-6 inches
|Around 5-7 inches
Some additional features of the black witch moth include:
- They have a diurnal resting posture with wings folded to expose the forewings, making them look like a dead leaf.
- Their hindwings are decorated with a series of small, white spots along the margin.
As you can see, the physical features of the black witch moth play a significant role in making it a unique species of insect.
Understanding these traits can help you identify them in the wild and appreciate their fascinating appearance.
Black Witch Moths (Ascalapha odorata), have an interesting diet.
Nectar: They are known for feeding on nectar from flowers. Black Witch Moths visit your garden and enjoy the sweetness provided by various blossoms.
Tree Sap: These moths also consume tree sap, which is rich in nutrients. They can often be found feasting on the sap that oozes from trees, as it provides them with essential sugars and minerals.
Here’s a comparison table of their dietary preferences:
|Sugars, amino acids
Interesting to note, Black Witch Moths are attracted to certain fruits, such as bananas.
While they don’t directly consume fruit, they are drawn to the sweet smell and may feed on fruit juices or nectar available on surfaces.
To sum it up, Black Witch Moths primarily feed on nectar and tree sap. They are attracted to the sweet smell of certain fruits but do not consume them directly.
By feeding on these substances, these moths maintain their energy and fulfill their nutritional needs.
Habitat and Geographic Distribution
The Black Witch Moth (Ascalapha odorata) is primarily found in warm tropical regions.
You’ll typically see these moths in areas such as Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and parts of South America like Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.
They are also prevalent in the southern United States, including South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley.
During migration, they can temporarily extend their range to North America, reaching up to Canada. However, it’s important to note that they are not native to the continental United States or Canada.
In their natural habitat, the Black Witch Moth thrives in forested areas and deciduous woodlands. They are typically nocturnal creatures, which means they are active during the night and prefer resting in shaded or dark areas during the day.
Here are some key habitats and regions of the Black Witch Moth:
- Mexico: Primary native habitat
- Caribbean: Commonly found in these tropical islands
- Central America: Another suitable area for their habitation
- Southern United States: Regions like South Texas and Rio Grande Valley
- South America: Countries such as Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay
- North America: Migratory presence reaching up to Canada, but not native
These large moths can adapt to various environments and are known for their impressive migratory patterns.
So, if you happen to encounter one of these striking moths, remember that they are likely just passing through on their journey to warmer regions.
Breeding and Lifecycle
The breeding and lifecycle of the black witch moth consist of four major stages: eggs, larva, pupa, and adult moth. Let’s discuss each stage briefly.
Eggs: The female moth lays clusters of eggs on the leaves of the host plant. After a few days, the eggs hatch into caterpillars.
- Color: Pale yellow
- Shape: Ovoid
Caterpillar (Larva): Once hatched, the caterpillars begin feeding on the leaves of the host plant, growing through a series of molts.
- Green and yellow with white, yellow, and black stripes
- Black spots on body
- Length: Up to 3-1/2 inches
As the caterpillar grows, it eventually forms a cocoon and enters the pupa stage.
Pupa: Inside the cocoon, the larva transforms into an adult moth. This metamorphosis process takes about two weeks.
- Pupation occurs within the cocoon
- Duration: Approximately 2 weeks
Adult Moth: Once the pupal stage is complete, the adult black witch moth emerges.
- Wingspan: Up to 4 inches
- Color: Mottled grayish-black
- Shape: Triangular when at rest
Their lifespan as an adult moth is relatively short, often just a few weeks, during which they focus on mating and laying eggs to start the next generation of their lifecycle.
What Do Black Witch Moths Eat? Their Host Plants
Black witch moth caterpillars (Ascalapha odorata) are known to feed on a variety of host plants during their larval stage.
These plants provide essential nutrients for the growth and development of the moth larvae. Some common host plants include:
- Kentucky coffee tree
- Candle bush
For example, legumes are a popular choice for black witch moth larvae because they are rich in proteins, which are essential for the larvae’s growth.
Similarly, mesquite and acacia trees provide both shelter and nourishment to the larvae, allowing them to feed on tender leaves and buds.
The Kentucky coffeetree and the candle bush are also host plants for black witch moth larvae, offering a variety of foliage for them to consume. These plants provide ample nutrients for the moth larvae to develop into healthy adult moths.
Adult moths, on the other hand, have a different diet. Since their proboscis, or feeding tube, is relatively small in comparison to some other moth species, they don’t rely heavily on nectar as a primary food source.
Instead, they consume water and surficial nutrients found on wet substrates, like tree bark or soil.
The Black Witch moth, also known as Ascalapha odorata, is often associated with various superstitions and beliefs. In Latin American folklore, it is sometimes referred to as the “mariposa de la muerte” or “butterfly of death” source.
People believed that the appearance of this moth was an omen of impending death.
However, not all cultures view the Black Witch moth as a symbol of doom. In some regions, it’s considered a “money moth,” thought to bring wealth and good fortune.
Its striking appearance and nocturnal habits make the Black Witch moth superficially resemble a bat, thus adding to its mystique source.
This intriguing creature has also inspired artists and novelists. For example, in the popular novel Silence of the Lambs, a Black Witch moth plays a significant role in the storyline.
The moth’s association with darkness, death, and transformation serves as a symbolic element in the narrative.
Black Witch moths are fascinating creatures with some distinctive behavioral traits. They have nocturnal habits, meaning they are active during the night while resting during the day.
Since they prefer darkness, you’ll mostly find them under the cover of night, exhibiting their unique behaviors. Black Witch moths are also known for their migration patterns.
Migration in these moths usually takes place between June and October. During this time, you might observe an increase in their abundance, especially in areas where their preferred food sources are found.
- Nocturnal habits
- Migration between June and October
Interactions with Humans
Black Witch Moths are fascinating creatures known for their large size and nocturnal habits. These moths have various associations with human culture, ranging from superstitions to their impact on agriculture.
In some places, such as Mexico and the Bahamas, the Black Witch Moth is known as the “money moth” due to the belief that spotting one brings financial fortune.
They are also linked to the idea of winning the lottery, further emphasizing their perceived connection to wealth. Additionally, they have a presence in Texas, Hawaii, and other parts of the United States, where people might encounter them during their nocturnal flights.
However, not all human interactions with Black Witch Moths are positive. They can sometimes become agricultural pests, particularly when their caterpillars feed on leaves of various crops.
This can lead to detrimental effects on plants and a potential decrease in crop yield.
Predators and Threats
Birds and bats are among the main predators of the black witch moth. These flying creatures often feed on moths, keeping their populations in check. Since you might be wondering about specific predators, here are a few examples:
Birds: Swallows, robins, and mockingbirds are just a few of the many birds that will prey on black witch moths.
Bats: Brown and big brown bats are known to consume various moth species, including the black witch moth.
In addition to birds and bats, some arthropod species may also pose a threat to black witch moths, particularly during their vulnerable larval stage.
This includes various parasitic wasps and spiders who hunt various insects.
The Black Witch Moth, known scientifically as Ascalapha odorata, is a notable species primarily found in the tropical regions of the Americas.
These moths, recognized for their large wingspan and nocturnal habits, have a distinct diet that plays a crucial role in their lifecycle.
As caterpillars, they feed on the leaves of a variety of plants, which is essential for their growth and transformation into adult moths.
In their adult stage, Black Witch Moths primarily consume nectar and tree sap, and are also attracted to the sweet scents of certain fruits.
Understanding the dietary habits of the Black Witch Moth provides insight into their ecological role and the importance of their presence in various habitats across the Americas.
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 – Male and Female Black Witch Moths from Hawaii
Black Witch Moths – Male & Female
Both sexes on the same screen!
Enjoy Keep the Spirit of Aloha alive!
Michael F. O’Brien
We we first read your very short email, we thought you had a photo of a pair of Black Witch Moths on the same window screen. Upon opening the photo files, we realized the screen you have in mind is the computer screen. We are also surprised that you manage to meticulously lable the file names on your digital photos with much information, yet your communication to us is quite spare. We know that collected insects without information regarding the circumstances of the capture are relatively worthless, so in the interest of credibility, we are including your label information here. The darker male Black Witch has the label: “P1070967(72)
Letter 2 – Bug of the Month: October 2006 – Black Witch Moth
Ed. Note: (09/30/2006) Though this letter came to us last year, the abundance of identification requests in late September and October influenced our decision to make the Black Witch Moth the Bug of the Month. It also has a great common name for the Halloween season.
(10/06/2005) What kind of moth is this?
Hi there Joe,
The Black Witch Moth 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. In the Fall, they are even reported from as far north as Canada. When they fly around lights at night, they look like enormous bats. When we stayed in a country home in Puebla 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 a great photo.
(10/15/2005) Black Witch
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…
Letter 3 – Owl Moth: Can this be a state record for Wisconsin???
Great Big Moth!
Location: Milwaukee, WI
November 15, 2010 11:49 pm
When I was out feeding my feral kitties this afternoon I saw what I thought was a leaf poking out of the slats of the porch. Looking closer, I saw that it had antennae and little legs! The wing span was about 4-5 inches and was a pale greyish brown with some darker accent marks.
I thought at first the beastie was dead- I live in Wisconsin and it is, after all, mid-November, so I tried to pick it up. I just about jumped out of my skin when the thing came to life and started to wiggle it’s legs! I left it on the porch to do it’s mothy business. When I went to take a photograph the wind blew the moth over and I saw it had a fuzzy, dark rusty-colored body and lighter orange-red color on the underside of it’s wings. Do you know what this is? I’ve never seen a moth so big!
Thank you for your help!
This is a very exciting report for us. This is an Owl Moth, Thysania zenobia, a neotropical species that is found in Mexico, and the only U.S. reports on BugGuide are from Texas, however, the info page on BugGuide contains this information: “Recorded through much is eastern North America east of the Rockies: AR, CT, FL, IA, IL, KY, LA, MA, ND, NY, OH, RI, SC, SD, TX, WI; Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia. Ranges south into South America. Range map.” The Texas Entomology website has this information: “Caveney (2007) reports 14 Owl moth records from Canada. The western-most and northern-most record was collected in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Neil (1979) reports the eastern-most record at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. It was collected in late summer or early fall 1944. The specimen is in the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, Halifax.“
Update: November 16, 2010
Hi again Angela. We looked again at the Range Map provided by the Texas Entomology website and there are four reported sightings from Wisconsin. There is a cluster of three sightings in the 1940s in Kewaunee and a single sighting in 1999 from Bayfield Co., N. Great Lakes Visitor Center, nr. Ashland. You may want to contact Mike Quinn at the Texas Entomology website and report your sighting.
Sept 21, 1999
Letter 4 – Female Black Witch
Subject: Black Witch Moth
August 26, 2012 4:34 pm
This lady was sitting in our office, in Hollywood. quite impressive at 6”
Thanks for sending your photo of a female Black Witch. We have read that they are now naturalized in the areas of the U.S. closest to the Mexican border, but most U.S. sightings are from migratory individuals that fly north during the Mexican rainy season and appear in September. The migration is quite curious since they do not really survive the northern winters.
Letter 5 – Owl Moth and Black Witches from Ecuador
Subject: White Witch Moths from Ecuador
Location: Loja, Ecuador
April 29, 2013 5:38 pm
One day I visited the local Soccer stadium of Loja, Ecuador, and had the luck of finding these beautiful Moths lining the walls. I’m assuming that they were attracted to the stadium’s lights during the match the night before.
If my identification is correct, these are White Witch moths, Thysania agrippina. Thought I didn’t know this at the time, this species is known for having the largest wingspan of any moth or butterfly in the world. Hope you like the pictures!
Your guess on the species is close, but not exact. The lighter moth is an Owl Moth, Thysania zenobia. It is in the same genus as the White Witch, but it is a considerably smaller moth. You may read more about the Owl Moth on the Texas Entomology website or on BugGuide. The photo with numerous darker moths illustrates Black Witches, Ascalapha odorata. There is much lore associated with Black Witches. You can read more on BugGuide.
Letter 6 – Male Black Witch
Subject: Male Black Witch Moth
Location: Frisco, TX
July 19, 2015 5:21 am
I don’t remember if I sent these in before, but I thought your team would appreciate this beauty! A male (I believe) black witch moth landed in my yard one day and allowed me to measure and photograph him. If I didn’t know any better I’d think he was posing!
We have been receiving numerous Black Witch sighting comments, including some from Colorado. Your image of this male is wonderful because of the use of scale. We will feature the posting in the hope it will allow others to identify the Black Witch moths that are currently migrating north from Mexico.
Letter 7 – What Drew the Black Witch to Wyoming???
Subject: Black Witch
Location: Cheyenne, Wyoming
August 31, 2015 1:43 pm
6:45 am, Cheyenne,Wyoming. Approximate size inches.
Signature: Wayne Barton
Congratulations on this extreme northern sighting of a male Black Witch, a neotropical species found in Central and South America. As far back as the late Nineteenth Century, sightings of Black Witch Moths as far north as Canada have been reported. 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” and “Often flies great distances in only a few nights, hiding by day wherever it can find dense shade – frequently under the eves of houses.” While sightings in border states including California and Texas, and southern states like Florida are not rare, northern sightings are not as common. Black Witch Moths are now thought to be breeding in some border states, but harsh winters in the north will most likely prevent naturalization. We followed a link from BugGuide to the Texas Entomology site where Mike Quinn is keeping records of state, and though there were three Black Witch sightings in 2004, there is nothing recent. We would suggest that you contact Mike at email@example.com to report your sighting, though we are going to pass on the information, but should he require additional information, we would not be able to provide anything. We can’t help but to wonder why Black Witches continue to migrate north though they would not stand much of a chance of passing on genetic material, because even if they were lucky enough to find a mate in Colorado or Canada, the harsh conditions would not favor the survival of the progeny.
Letter 8 – First Black Witch posting from 2016
Subject: Black Witch Moth
Location: Carlsbad, NM
July 30, 2016 9:36 pm
This evening, around twilight, I was backing out of my garage when I saw what I thought was a bat flitting around inside the garage. I stopped the car and went to safely shoo it out. It had landed upside down on the raised garage door. I was very surprised to find no bat but a huge brown moth. It was easily 6 inches from wing tip to wing tip. I took a few photos, and then gently moved it out. It landed on the wood frame of the garage door, where I took some better photos using the car headlights for illumination. I love the little commas on the shoulders.
I don’t recall ever seeing this type of moth before. I looked on your site under “large brown moth”, and I think I’ve matched it to Black Witch Moth, male. According to what I read, they are usually tropical but can be found in the U.S. occasionally. We’ve had a very hot summer with 20+ days over 100 degrees. I don’t know if that’s what brought this guy north. Looking at your site, I found several Black Witch Moth submissions, but I didn’t find one from 2016, so I thought I’d send these in.
I love your site and use it all the time.
You are correct that this is a male Black Witch and you are also correct that this is our first 2016 report, and we are thrilled that there is such a wonderful, high quality image to accompany the posting. Northern migrations of Black Witch Moths from Mexico have been documented for over 100 years, and the start of the migration seems to be linked to the monsoon season in Mexico, but no one is certain why the migration includes reports from as far north as Alaska. The Black Witch is a huge moth that is capable of flying great distances, which may lead to range expansions, but potential larval food plants tend to be confined to warmer climates as the trees upon which the caterpillars feed cannot survive colder winters. Texas Entomology has information on Black Witch migrations.
Letter 9 – Female Black Witch
Subject: Black Witch Moth
Location: Studio City, CA
August 25, 2016 12:25 am
I found, I believe, a Black Witch Moth female on the wall at the entrance of my parking deck. I am concerned about the sorry state of its beautiful wings. It has been there for a while. It was dusk when I found it.
Signature: Jessica Chortkoff
You are correct that this is a female Black Witch moth. The Black Witch is a long-lived species that is known to migrate thousands of miles. Their wings can often get quite tattered, but that does not seem to negatively impact their ability to fly.
Oh that is good. I did some research and found out that if a butterfly injures its wing in such a way that they are no longer symmetrical it will starve because it can’t really fly. The only way to save it would be to put it in the fridge for ten minutes, so it goes into a trancelike state, then hold it and clip the wings so they are the exact same shape, or if you have extra butterfly wings on hand, you can try to glue part of the doner insects’ wing on to make it symmetrical. I am not sure I am a butterfly surgeon. Another option would be to build a butterfly garden on my balcony. It has probably flown away by now though.
Letter 10 – Male Black Witch
Subject: Was this a black witch?
Location: Southeast Denver, Colorado
June 27, 2017 8:12 pm
I saw this fly across my backyard today in broad daylight (I thought it was a bird flying a little bit wacky), and then it somehow found its way into my garage. Its wingspan was easily over 6 inches and it was very dark, almost black. I think it was a male black witch because I could see eye-like patterns at the top of its wings and swirly patterns at the base of its wings. It finally flew out of the garage a couple hours later, thank goodness- I didn’t want this majestic creature to meet its end in a dumb garage!
What do you think?
Signature: Cindy F
You are correct that this is a male Black Witch. They often seek out protected areas in which to rest, and your garage worked nicely.
Letter 11 – Black Witch in Wyoming
Subject: Black witch?
Location: Casper, Wyoming
July 14, 2017 12:13 am
Found this next to my front door, it looks s a black witch moth?
Signature: Thank you, Stacy
This is indeed a male Black Witch moth. This is a neotropical species that breeds as far north as Mexico, but for some inexplicable reason, Black Witch Moths have been reported as far back as the 19th Century to fly north as far as Canada. The damaged upper left wing causes us to fantasize that your individual might be this very Black Witch, reported from Denver on June 27, that just reached Wyoming.
Letter 12 – Male Black Witch
Subject: Large dark moth
Location: Deerhorn Valley Jamul Ca
July 28, 2017 7:36 pm
Look at this beast! We live in eastern Dan Diego County in oak woodland/chaparral. This beauty was found by my daughter right outside our door. If it were on an oak tree I’m sure I would have missed it entirely.
This impressive creature is a male Black Witch Moth, a species found in Mexico. For some unexplained reason, monsoon season in Mexico causes large numbers of Black Witch Moths to fly north, and individuals have bee reported as far north as Canada.
Thank you so very much! I have now looked it up and see that folk lore says I will win the lottery or die. Hmmm. I choose the lottery. I will let you know if fortune or disaster comes my way 😉 Either way it is fun to know what it is. Thank you again!
Letter 13 – Female Black Witch
Geographic location of the bug: McAllen Texas
Time: 11:43 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Identify
How you want your letter signed: Name
This is a female Black Witch, a moth that migrates North from neotropical Mexico each year, sometimes flying as far as Canada. This is a very early sighting, and this might be due to unseasonal rain patterns we have been experiencing this year.