The evening before Monsterfest (coincidence...?) a huge, dark moth appeared on the library building and it remained there for the duration of Monsterfest. It remained inconspicuous in the shadows, but one of our library staff saw it and showed it to me. I had never seen anything like it, in person or in any Virginia nature publications, and I had never heard of any Virginia moth that was as big as this one. Confused, I did some research and identified it as -- are you ready? -- a Black Witch Moth! It is also sometimes call a Bat Moth because it is so big and dark that it can look like a bat. How appropriate for Monsterfest day! This individual is an adult male, and he is in surprisingly good condition considering the distance he traveled to get here:
What makes this moth's appearance even more "spooky" is that it is extremely rare in Virginia, with only a handful of historic records of its occurrence here. The moth's home is in Central America and Mexico, and in most years they move into southern Texas. Once the rainy season hits Texas in June, the moths sometimes wander further north into the United States and are mostly recorded in Texas, Florida, and the far southern states through October.
During outbreak years when the moths disperse north in larger numbers than usual, a few individuals have been recorded as far north as Canada, although they still are extremely rare north of Texas. As stated above, Virginia has only a small handful of historic records of the moth's occurrence. A few might enter Virginia every few years, but only 3 or 4 (?) have ever been documented.
So the Black Witch that came to the Chesapeake Library for Monsterfest was a very big deal! I photographed it and have sent photos and details to Steven M. Roble, Ph.D., staff zoologist at the
Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, and to a Texas entomologist who tracks the movements of this species and requests reports of any sitings outside of Texas.
I can't emphasize enough the startling size of this moth species. It has a wingspan of about 7 inches and is the largest moth that occurs anywhere in North America. The photo above doesn't do it justice, so one of our staff measured the bricks on our building and Photoshopped a ruler to scale next to the moth, to give some perspective:
There is much legend and folklore associated with the Black Witch Moth, undoubtedly because of its size and dark, murky coloration. One of the legends in Mexico is that a sick person will die if the moth enters his house. A variation on this legend in southern Texas is that death only occurs if the moth flies in and visits all four corners of the house. These legends have evolved into a joke that if a Black Witch Moth flies over your head, you will lose your hair! Another legend: if you see one of these moths, it means someone has cursed you.
There are some "good fortune" legends as well; in Hawaii, the moth is the embodiment of a loved one who has just died. In the Bahamas, it is said that if a moth lands on you, you will come into money. And in South Texas, some say that you will win the lottery if a moth lands above your door and stays a while.
I looked for "our" moth again the day after Monsterfest, but it had disappeared during the night. It was a real treat to have hosted such a rare and beautiful creature, if only for a day or two.