Encounter With a Black Witch

I just had an unexpected encounter with a black witch moth. I was outside working in the garden when it startled me and flew up to me and around my head. At first I thought it was a bat because it flies just like a bat. But bats generally do not fly during the day. As it flew away towards the oak tree I realized it was a large black moth.

Female moths can attain a wingspan of 24 cm. The dorsal surfaces of their wings are mottled brown with hints of iridescent purple and pink, and, in females, crossed by a white bar. The diagnostic marking is a small spot on each forewing shaped like a number nine or a comma.  Photo by Charles J. Sharp, from Sharp Photography.

The moth, Ascalapha odorata, commonly known as the black witch, is a large bat-shaped, dark-colored nocturnal moth, normally ranging from the southern United States to Brazil. Ascalapha odorata is also migratory into Canada and most states of United States. It is the largest noctuoid in the continental United States.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ascalapha_odorata)

I have to be honest, this encounter spooked me somewhat, one, because the flight pattern was so unusual, and second, I am aware of the tradition in many cultures that an encounter with this moth means impending death or misfortune. (In Spanish, the black witch is known as “mariposa de la muerte”.) It also doesn’t help that it is so close to Halloween.

The males are somewhat smaller, reaching 12 cm in width, darker in color and lacking the white bar crossing the wings. Photo by Charles J. Sharp, from Sharp Photography.

I decided to do some research and found out that black witch moths have also been credited with bringing good fortune. In the Bahamas the moth is known as the money moth, and if you see a black witch moth, the hope is that you’ll gain riches. And in south Texas, where I live, the black witch moth might be the prelude winning the lottery.

I am off to buy a lottery ticket!