Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mariposa de la muerte

Last night while strolling the grounds, I saw what I thought to be a bat flying around the northern most shelter (a structure with a tall, peaked, and thatched roof). This afternoon I walked over to the shelter hoping to see if any bats were roosting in the beams supporting the roof. Instead of a bat, I found a Black Witch Moth. Apparently a female. Females have a zig-zag median band across the wings that distinguish them from males which lack the band. In my opinion the female is far lovelier than the male. Isn’t that always the case?

This was no small moth. Measuring about 6-inches across it is the largest moth in the Continental United States. As they are strong fliers, they might easily be mistaken for bats. Ironically, these moths posses tympanic organs that can detect the echolocation signals of insect-eating bats thus helping them avoid being eaten by the bats they resemble in flight. When an ultrasonic sound of a bat is detected the moth's reaction is bimodal - it may either fly directly away from the sound source or initiate a series of complex maneuvers.

Black Witch Moths are tropical, normally found in South and Central America, the Caribbean, and south Texas and Florida. They occasionally may fly much further north. There are records of these moths being found in Wisconsin.

The Black Witch Moth as its name might imply is identified in folklore as a harbinger of death. In Mexico and Costa Rica it's known as “Mariposa de la muerte”. A common cultural belief is that if the moth enters a home where a person is ill, that the person will die. A variation on this myth in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas is that the moth has to visit all four corners of a person’s house before death occurs. Although I’m feeling well, I'm much more at ease that I found this moth in a building several hundred feet from our RV. If we start feeling ill, we'll be sure to close the windows and doors.

In Jamaica Carol knew this moth as a duppy bat. Jamaicans tend to refer to anything that flies and that is not a bird, as bats. The word duppy refers to the moth as being an embodiment of a lost soul or a soul not at rest.

It is said in South Texas that if a Black Witch Moth lands above your door and remains for a while, you will win the lottery. Some people in Mexico believe that if the moth flies over your head you will lose your hair. Feeling healthy and lacking any fear of losing something I no longer posses, I believe I will walk back and stand under the moth where it is presently resting and wait for the lottery winners to be announced.

A few days ago while visiting the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) property we found a few less ominous and more colorful winged creatures. A Guava Skipper and a Red-bordered Pixie. Both are uncommon in South Texas. The skipper, as its name suggests, uses Guava plants as larval hosts.

The pixie adult, unlike many butterflies we've seen, shies away from direct sunlight. It's more highly localized in extreme South Texas than the Guava Skipper. Its larval host plant is Guamuchil, an Acacia, and in so far as I know, does not feed on pixies.

Guava Skipper

Red-bordered Pixie


  1. That is so cool! I am ever so envious of your retirement journey!

  2. Tom & Carol, hello

    Fabulous trip. Thanks for sharing.

    Happy Holidays.

    Jeff & Cari Lendrum
    Grahams friend