BLACK WITCH MOTH: HARBINGER OF DEATH OR LOTTERY BANKER?


Black Witch moths Ascalapha odorata (Charles J Sharp)

BLACK WITCH MOTH: HARBINGER OF DEATH OR LOTTERY BANKER?

Black Witch moths Ascalapha odorata are seriously bad news. Or wonderfully good news, depending where you are and who you talk to. First, lets look at some of the local names for the creature, from which you will get a pretty clear idea of its somewhat negative folklore status, as well as its area of distribution. I do this not to demonstrate how effortlessly I can ‘borrow’ from Wiki, but rather to show how a simple moth can give rise to widespread superstition and even fear. 

12 SCARY NAMES FOR ONE MOTH

  • Mariposa de la muerte (butterfly of death) – Mexico / Costa Rica
  • Pirpinto de la Yeta (something like ‘jinxing butterfly’) – Argentina
  • Tara Bruja (witch moth) – Venezuela)
  • Miquipapalotl (black death moth) – Mexico
  • Taparaco (something like ‘messenger in black’) – Peru
  • X-mahan-nah (‘borrows your house’ [eh? Ed]) – Mayan
  • Duppy Bat (lost soul / ghost /malevolent spirit) – Jamaica, Caribbean
  • Money Moth, Money Bat – Jamaica, Caribbean (including Bahamas)
  • Other names include Papillion-devil, La Sorcière Noire, Mourning moth, Sorrow moth.

These large moths (wingspan up to 7″)  are nocturnal, with females larger than the males. The diagnostic marking is a spot on each forewing shaped like a number nine or a comma (or maybe even ying / yang symbols?). This spot is often green with orange highlights (seen in the header image). The stripey larval caterpillar can grow up to 7 cm in length.

Black Witch moth larva - Ascalapha odorata - wiki

The moth is a migratory species, flying from (roughly speaking) South America as far north as Florida and Texas. The worst luck is believed to come from having one flutter into your house. It will either bring bad luck to the house – or if there is already misfortune there, it will make it worse. There are variations on this belief – e.g. that the more corners of a room the moth visits, the more doomed the household.

Black Witch moths Ascalapha odorata (Julia Gotz)

IS THERE ANY GOOD NEWS ABOUT THIS CREATURE?

Fortunately yes, and it’s high time to dispel the gloom. In some places (e.g. Hawaii), it is believed than when a loved one has died and an Ascalapha odorata is seen soon after, it is the person’s soul returning to say farewell.

More promisingly still, in the Bahamas a far more positive and practical attitude is shown. If a Money Moth (or Money Bat) lands on you, you will receive some money. Or so it is said. Texas, thinking big, takes this several steps further to the prediction that you will win the lottery (I have a feeling this is a very modern theory).

WHY ARE YOU SCARING US WITH THIS THING?

Because until last month I had never heard of these moths, let alone seen one. Then one balmy Delphi evening, at dusk, someone pointed out a large dark smudge on the door-frame. I only had a cellphone, and I had to use the flash. Here is the moth, with its evil little eyes shining in the flash. Luckily, it was outside not inside the building, which I hope diluted the malevolence radiation level (though I didn’t realise that at the time of course, until I’d looked it up in Sibley’s indispensible ‘Compendium of Evil Moths‘). It’s a terrible photo, but it was useful for ID and I feel that taking a quick shot helped to ward off the worst of the unpleasantness. Though now I think of it I did fish badly (even for me) the following day…

        A poor photo but mine own… 

CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE IN LITERATURE

Remember Silence of the Lambs? Well in the book, pupae of the Black Witch moth were placed in the mouths of victims by serial killer ‘Buffalo Bill’ as his calling card – though for the film, the moth species was changed to a Death’s-head Hawkmoth, as featured on the poster.

You can read about Hannibal Lecter’s link to moths, and learn how for the film the pupae were were made from sweets (Gummi Bears ™) so as to be harmless if swallowed, HERE

SO ARE THEY HARMFUL IN ANY WAY AND / OR WILL ONE MAKE ME RICH?

No

Taking one’s life in one’s hands…?Black Witch moths Ascalapha odorata (Charles J Sharp)

Photo credits: Charles J Sharp (1, 5); Wiki (2); Julia Gotz (‘juliatrees’) (3)*; Keith Salvesen (4)   Sources: Julia Gotz (‘juliatrees’), Terry Sovil, , Texasbutterflyranch.com, Wiki, Sibley’s ‘Compendium of Evil Moths

*Julie closed her blog, from which photo 3 comes, in 2010. I’m hoping she won’t mind my resurrection of her image to illustrate the species… Black Witch moth photos are quite rare online

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (9): GULF FRITILLARIES


Gulf Fritillary, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (9): GULF FRITILLARIES

It’s been a while since any papilionidae made an appearance on these pages – and much longer since a Gulf fritillary  Agraulis vanillae flew in. These very pretty butterflies are far from rare, but like the ATALA hairstreak, they are always a pleasure to see. Here are a few to enjoy.

Gulf Fritillary, Abaco (Charles Skinner)Gulf Fritillary, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)5Gulf Fritillary, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)2Gulf Fritillary, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)1Gulf Fritillary, Abaco (Charles Skinner)10386393_10152656788408720_3995568288186763659_nGulf Fritillary, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Credits: Charles Skinner (1, 2, 6, 8), Rhonda Pearce (7), Keith Salvesen (3, 4, 5)

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (8): WHITE PEACOCK


White Peacock Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 1

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (8): WHITE PEACOCK

The white peacock (Anartia jatrophae) is not a rare butterfly in the northern Bahamas. However, until recently I had never – or never consciously – seen one before. Then we came across a few at the Neem Farm, all very frisky and mostly refusing to settle for more than 1/100 second. By the time I have remembered to remove my lens cap, they are 50 yards away.

White Peacock Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 2White Peacock Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 3White Peacock Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 4

I checked out these pretty but unassuming butterflies online because they seemed rather pale and anaemic. As far as I can make out this is because they were still in winter colouring; in summer they are more brightly marked. Here’s a photo of a dishevelled white peacock taken in June at Delphi by Charlie Skinner, which shows stronger colours.

White Peacock, Abaco DSC_4786 (Charlie Skinner)

ARE THEY EVER FOUND LOOKING BRIGHT AND NOT FALLING APART?

Yes, of course, but interestingly, never ever in the field. The one below, non-anaemic and intact, was thoughtfully uploaded to Wiki by Greg Hume. He took it at a butterfly show, where presumably tatty butterflies are excluded…

WhitePeacock (Greg Hume)

Photos: Keith Salvesen 1 – 4; Charlie Skinner 5; Greg Hume 6

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (7): LONG-TAILED SKIPPER


Long-tailed Skipper Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 1

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (7): LONG-TAILED SKIPPER 

The Abaco Neem Farm is run by Nick Miaoulis with a passion and commitment to the environment matched by few. The farm products can be found in the excellent Abaco Neem shop in Marsh Harbour. This is wonderful place for birding. Besides fruit trees of many kinds, there is a perfect mix of coppice and pine-forest to satisfy the most habitat-pedantic species. 

Long-tailed Skipper Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 3

Around the fruit trees, wildflowers are encouraged to thrive. These attract bees (Nick also has hives) and of course butterflies – not forgetting moths. Amongst the fluttery creatures, we found a long-tailed skipper (Urbanus proteus), a butterfly found in tropical and subtropical areas. It is a striking creature, with iridescent blues on the body and two long tails extending from the hindwings. The caterpillar is said to be a crop and ornamental plant pest; the butterfly is described as uncommon (maybe for the Bahamas, anyway).

Urbanus proteus: the caterpillarUrbanus_proteus4 (Mike Boone Bug Guide)

Urbanus proteus on Man-o-War CayLong-tailed Skipper - Abaco Butterfly (Charmaine Albury)

Two non-Abaco examplesLong-tailed_Skipper_Butterfly_(Urbanus_proteus)_1 (Jonathan Zander Wiki)Common_longtailed_skipper_(Urbanus_proteus_domingo)_female (Charles Sharp)

Abaco Neem Farm (with beehive)Bee Hive, Neem Farm, Abaco (Mrs RH)

Credits: Keith Salvesen (1, 2); Wiki-pillar (3); Charmaine Albury (4); Non-Abaco Wiki-Skippers Jonathan Zander (5) and Charles Sharp (6); Mrs RH (7)

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (6): FOCUS ON SWALLOWTAILS


Bahama Swallowtail, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Uli Nowlan) copy

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (6): FOCUS ON SWALLOWTAILS

I’ve mentioned the swallowtail butterflies of Abaco before, but I have never shown the 3 main species together. They are such handsome creatures that’s it time to give them a place in the sun. These are my favourite butterflies. Ah yes – equally with the wonderful ATALA HAIRSTREAK

Bahama Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) 2 copy

BAHAMA (BAHAMIAN) SWALLOWTAIL

This fine swallowtail Papilio andraemon has a range beyond the islands of the Bahamas. It is also found on Cuba and Jamaica. Occasionally they are found as strays on the Florida Keys or on the mainland in the Miami region. 

Bahama Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) 1 copyBahama Swallowtail, Abaco (Uli Nowlan)

POLYDAMUS (‘GOLD-RIM’) SWALLOWTAIL

This is the species you are most likely to encounter as they cruise rapidly from flower to flower, constantly on the move, with wings fluttering even as they feed. Hard to get good photos of them, therefore. But some (though sadly not me) manage it somehow… Polydamus Swallowtail, Abaco (Nina Henry)Polydamus Swallowtail, Abaco (Char Albury) Polydamus Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) copy

TIGER SWALLOWTAIL

I suspect this species – common in the eastern USA – is quite rare on Abaco. I have never seen one, and these ones photographed by Uli Nowlan at Treasure Cay are the only pictures I have seen. And what lovely creatures they are. Tiger Swallowtail, Abaco (Uli Nowlan) Tiger Swallowtail, Abaco (Uli Nowlan)2

DISQUALIFIED ENTRIES

RIGHT SPECIES, WRONG CONTINENT – EUROPEAN SWALLOWTAILSwallowtail Butterfly (France)

RIGHT COUNTRY, WRONG CREATURE – BAHAMA SWALLOW TAIL, ABACO BS BH IMG_8038

WRONG CREATURE, WRONG CONTINENT – EUROPEAN SWALLOW TAILSwallow Dorset

RIGHT EVERYTHING, HOPELESS PHOTO (how they usually behave for me…)Polydamus (Gold Rim) Swallowtail Butterfly, Abaco (but6)

RELATED POSTS

COMMON BUCKEYE

ZEBRA HELICONIAN

GULF FRITILLARY

DRYAS JULIA

MARTIAL SCRUB-HAIRSTREAK

Polydamus Swallowtail abaco (Char Albury)

Credits: Uli Nowlan, Rhonda Pearce, Nina Henry, Charmaine Albury, plus disappointments for RH

ABACO BUTTERFLIES feat. FLUTTERY PHILATELY


Red-spotted Purple Butterfly, Abaco (Selah Vie)

ABACO BUTTERFLIES feat. FLUTTERY PHILATELY

I’ve been distracted from my intended scribble by a lovely butterfly posted by ‘Selah Vie’, one I’ve never seen before. It’s one of those lepidots that have a topside surprisingly and excitingly different from the underwings (see header image). Imagine having this beauty turning up on your patio…

RED-SPOTTED PURPLE BUTTERFLYRed-spotted Purple Butterfly (Selah Vie)

This reminded me that I have some butterfly images waiting in the wings (ha!), so now is the time to encourage a few out of their virtual chrysalis for wider appreciation. 

BAHAMAS SWALLOWTAILBahama Swallowtail? Palamedes Swallowtail?Bahama Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) 2Bahama Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) 1

POLYDAMUS SWALLOWTAILPolydamus Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)Hibiscus / Polydamus Swallowtail, Delphi Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

MONARCH BUTTERFLYMonarch Butterfly, Abaco (Charmaine Albury) 2 Monarch Butterfly, Abaco (Charmaine Albury) 1

MONK (?) SKIPPER

Skipper Butterfly, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

FRITILLARY (make unknown)Fritillary, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

tigertail

FLUTTERY PHILATELY

The Bahamas has an excellent record for producing colourful stamp issues showcasing the wildlife of the islands – birds, reef fish and of course butterflies. I’ve posted about these several time, and they are more or less collected together on a dedicated stamp page HERE. As for the butterflies, they get a new issue every decade or so. Here are the last four.

1975

Bahamas Butterfly Stamps 1974

1983

$_1-1

1994

$_1-1 copy

2008

baha08002

tigertail          imgres          tigertail

Credits: Selah Vie (1, 2); Uli Nowlan (3); Rhonda Pearce (4, 5, 6, 10, 11); RH (7); Charmaine Albury (8, 9); open source / ads etc (all stamps)

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (5): THE UNUSUAL MARTIAL SCRUB-HAIRSTREAK


Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis (Nina Henry) 1 sm

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (5): THE UNUSUAL MARTIAL SCRUB-HAIRSTREAK

I wish I could tell you something useful about this butterfly, but frankly there’s not a lot of info about it to be found. In part that may be because it is not a mainstream American butterfly, being found only in southern Florida. However it is found in the West Indies, and indeed on Abaco – this one was photographed by Nina Henry at Little Harbour. She was walking from Pete’s Pub to the OLD LIGHTHOUSE when she came across this butterfly. She sent it to me as a query and it took me an hour to nail the ID – there are other very similar and more common hairstreaks that threw me off track for a while (I thought it might be a female… oh, ever  mind, it wasn’t).

The Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis ranges from the southern tip of Florida, throughout the Bahamas and Greater Antilles. I’ve never seen one on Abaco, and I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who has. As far as I can make out this creature’s range tends to be further south, so I’m guessing they are unusual  for Abaco. Prove me wrong!

Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis (Nina Henry) 3 sm

Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis (Nina Henry) 2 sm

Photo Credit: Nina Henry