Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Black Witch

Witch on the porch  - Chris Barnhart

  - Jill Hayes
Chris Barnhart found this welcome visitor on his front door.  This is the Black Witch moth, Ascalapha odorata, a tropical species found in Florida and Texas year round.  In the late summer months it migrates north as far as Canada.  It has been reported in Newfoundland, and Juneau, Alaska.

First, the fun part.  The folklore for this species is rich throughout the tropics, a confusing mix of death threats and good fortune.  In Paraguay the belief is if they touch your eyes you will go blind.  Texasento.net reports some of these other examples.
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!
In Mexico, people joke that if one flies over someone's head, the person will lose his hair.  (I have never seen a Black Witch but this may explain my scalp.)  Still another myth: seeing one means that someone has put a curse on you!
How these stories developed across the Western Hemisphere with just this species no one knows.  It even reached the movies in "Silence of the Lambs where serial killer Hannibal Lechter inserted cocoons of Black Witch Moths into the mouths of his victims as a weird gesture of transformation.  The moth on the movie poster is a Death’s Head Hawk Moth, but the actual cocoon was that of a Black Witch."

The Black Witch moth is a nocturnal species that migrates at night.  It feeds on rotting fruit and may have been drawn to the Barnhart's overripe pawpaws.  For some unexplained reason they are frequently found on porches, carports and even on cars, although this may just be where these big moths are spotted by people not used to noticing the average moth.  With a seven inch wing span they are the largest moth in the US.

Black Witch caterpillar  - Jan Dauphin
  - Jill Hayes
Their large black stripped caterpillars feed at night and hide under the bark during the day.  Their host plants are a wide variety of woody legumes found in the south.  In our temperate area they feed on Honey Locust and Kentucky Coffee Tree.

Black Witch Migration 2012 - texasento.net
The Black Witch migrates up from Mexico and south Texas in June, much later that the Monarchs.  This is probably because they migrate at night in higher altitudes where the air is cooler.  In 2003 a massive migration arrived with a hurricane Claudette.  Twelve other Owlet moths are migratory, some of them serious agricultural pests such as army worms and several other cutworms.

Insect migration is a large topic with various definitions that depend on scale and frequency of observation.  This link lists some of the known species.

Read more at Desertusa.com.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this posting, what an amazing and funny world! Thankyou!