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

SNOWY EGRETS: A FUSS ABOUT (ALMOST) NOTHING…


Snowy Egrets fishing (Phil Lanoue)

SNOWY EGRETS: A FUSS ABOUT (ALMOST) NOTHING…

Well, what’s all the fuss about here? One snowy egret is striding confidently forward. The other has gone into full-scale feather-frenzy melt-down. Something is clearly up…

…something that seems on close inspection to be a very small fishSnowy Egrets fishing (Phil Lanoue)Snowy Egrets fishing (Phil Lanoue)

After pausing to check what’s going on, the cool, calm and collected snowy continues on his way. His friend however seems to have lost all sense of decorum as a result of a successful stalk and the catch of a light snack… Snowy Egrets fishing (Phil Lanoue)

Sensible part: the dishevelled bird is displaying so-called ‘bridal plumage’. And for ID enthusiasts, note the diagnostic yellow feet (header image), black legs, and black beak with a yellow / orange ‘bit’ (*technical word alert*) at the blunt end.

Credits: these fantastic photos are the work of Phil Lanoue who specialises in sequential photography, to whom many thanks for use permission; cartoon, Birdorable

THE ‘ABACO’ PARROTS OF NASSAU: FEEDING TIME


Abaco (Cuban) Parrots in Nassau - Melissa Maura

THE ‘ABACO’ PARROTS OF NASSAU: FEEDING TIME

New Providence, Bahamas – specifically in Nassau itself – now has a small population (c.15) of Cuban parrots. Their origin is debated, since the only known Bahamas breeding populations of these birds are on Abaco (underground nesting in limestone caves) and Inagua (conventional nesting).  There’s more on the (probable) provenance of the New Providence birds HERE and HERE.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrots in Nassau - Melissa MauraAbaco (Cuban) Parrots in Nassau - Melissa Maura

Whatever the location, the nesting arrangements or the precise origin, one fact is certain: these beautiful birds are prodigious eaters of fruit. Here are a couple of the Nassau parrots tucking in with relish on a sunny day. Soon they will fly off to other fruit trees nearby, emitting their loud excited squawks, to continue their day of feeding…

Note the wide businesslike spread of the clawsAbaco (Cuban) Parrots in Nassau - Melissa Maura

All photos: Melissa Maura, with thanks as always – and for a great new parrot header image…

BALD EAGLE ON THE ABACO MARLS: EXTREMELY RARE SIGHTING


BALD EAGLE ON THE ABACO MARLS: EXTREMELY RARE SIGHTING

On March 22nd a friend of ours, James, was bonefishing far out on the Abaco Marls when he was astounded to see the unmistakable appearance of a bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus flying above him. His boat partner and guide Joe also saw the bird. James is a very experienced birder, and has seen plenty of bald eagles over the years. He was not to know, at the time, what an exceptionally rare sighting this is. The location was in the area of  Big Pine Point.

SIGHTING REPORTS

If you are out on the Marls and see this bird, please can you add a comment to this post or contact me at rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com, giving the date, time, approximate location… and if possible attaching a photograph. Any reports will add important data to the archive for the birds of Abaco, and of the Bahamas generally.

Bald Eagle [Abaco, Bahamas sighting - open source image]

PREVIOUS ABACO SIGHTINGS

I checked Tony White’s compendious checklist compiled for BIRDS OF ABACO that contains all species recorded for Abaco since 1950. He categorised the Bald Eagle as a ‘V4’,  indicating a vagrant species with a handful of irregular sightings – ever. I then contacted Bahamas bird guru Woody Bracey to check the details of earlier sightings. The answer is:

“Bald Eagles were sighted on Abaco three years running 2000-2002. In each instance it was over the Christmas Holiday period (12-20-1-10). I saw one in 2002 from the overlook near Treasure Cay looking out over the marls. Betsy (Woody’s wife)  saw one over the chicken farm fields in 2001 but I missed it”.

Some people might mistake the Caribbean subspecies of Osprey (an all-white head) for a Bald Eagle but as Woody points out, “their flight and shape are very different”

Bald Eagle [Abaco, Bahamas sighting - David R Tribble / open source image]

WHAT DO I LOOK OUT FOR? A large raptor with a dark body and wings, and a distinctive white head and tail

HOW CAN I TELL IT FROM AN OSPREY? By comparison with this Abaco Osprey

Osprey, Abaco (Craig Nash)

 WHAT DO I LISTEN OUT FOR?

Image / audio credits: open source / David R Tribble / Craig Nash (Osprey)

OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLER ON ABCO


Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Tom Sheley)

The olive-capped warbler is one of Abaco’s 5 permanent resident warblers, out of 37 warbler species recorded for Abaco. The other PRs are: Bahama Warbler, Bahama Yellowthroat, Pine Warbler and Yellow Warbler. (Photo: Tom Sheley)

BROWN PELICANS ON ABACO & BEYOND


Brown Pelican, Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

BROWN PELICANS ON ABACO & BEYOND

Six more sleeps. That’s all. Suddenly, a trip that seemed ages away is rushing towards us. Or, to put it more plausibly science-wise, we are rushing towards it. Abaco beckons, with bonefish, rays, sharks, reef fishes, whales, dolphins, birds and butterflies to investigate. Plus Kaliks to consume. 

Brown Pelican, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

Idly thinking along those lines and vaguely plotting the first few days, took me to Sandy Point, home of the BMMRO (Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation) and of course the legendary Nancy’s, the restaurant at the end of the road. From where it is a short step to the dock on which the pelicans gather and use as a launch pad for their fishing dives.

I photographed this bird at the end of the SP dock, looking rather bedraggled after a diveBrown Pelican (m), Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Note the significant plumage differences between the male (above) & this femaleBrown Pelican (f), Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

I recently read somewhere that the brown pelican is (or has become) quite uncommon in the Bahamas. On Abaco it is a permanent resident breeding species, so a drop in numbers equals fewer nests, fewer chicks and… fewer numbers. It’s a classic cycle towards serious population decline and all that is implied. Has anyone noticed an apparent reduction in numbers, I wonder? Comments welcome.

Brown Pelican, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

Brown Pelican, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The pelicans above were all photographed on Abaco. The two below were not, but are both by exceptional photographers. One, Phil Lanoue, specialises in dramatic sequences, and his work features elsewhere in this blog. The final image was sportingly uploaded by Alan Schmierer from Flickr into the ‘public domain’.

Coming in to land…Brown Pelican coming in to land (Phil Lanoue)

While we are on Abaco, I plan to keep posting as and when, subject to connectivity (always a proviso in the Bahamas). My big hope is that the piping plovers that were on the beach last year and returned this season, will have resisted the increasingly insistent call to fly north to the breeding grounds. If they could just hang on for just a few more days… 

Brown Pelican preening (Alan Schmierer)

Credits: Tom Sheley (1); Tony Hepburn (2); Keith Salvesen (3, 4, 6); Woody Bracey (5); Phil Lanoue (7); Alan Schmierer (8); Birdorable (cartoon)

A BEAUTIFUL BIRD… & TROLLING ON ABACO


black-necked-stilt-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheley-sm

A BEAUTIFUL BIRD… & TROLLING ON ABACO

A quick note to the malcontent (or maybe it’s a syndicate?) who has resumed trolling this blog after a lull. Yes, I’ve noticed your handiwork, and I couldn’t care less. Except about you. Bless! I’d have thought you’d have better things to do with your time. Clearly I’m an optimist.

If you don’t like this blog or what’s posted here, remember that you have chosen to visit it. If it’s not to your liking you very luckily have the choice never to visit again. More constructively, you could have some guts and attempt to leave a constructive comment such as: your facts are wrong; your photos are lousy; your jokes are unfunny; your are a foreigner sticking your nose into another country’s wildlife and history; sorry, I am sick in the head; all of the above.

Carry on if you want. Or bugger off. Entirely up to you. Cheers.

Black-necked stilt in flight, Abaco (Alex Hughes) Credits: Tom Sheley, Alex Hughes. Discredits: Troll (there you are – your name in print!)