Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Black Witch

This is just too cool not to share lickety-split, so here it is - the most amazing moth one could hope for in Ohio. Sort of like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Photo by Greg Raterman

Moth expert Greg Raterman was baiting nocturnal leps last night in Pickaway County, when this gorgeous monstrosity appeared. Black Witch, Ascalapha odorata! As far as I know, this is the biggest moth to be found north of Mexico, and they are true showstoppers.

I can only imagine Greg's surprise when he checked his moth-baiting operation and found this beast. Like most Black Witches that turn up far to the north of where they ought to be, this one is a female, which has the prominent white scalloped line across the wings. The Black Witch occurs in parts of the Caribbean, and throughout Mexico and Central America and south into South America. They are major rarities this far north, and one shows up in Ohio every few years, perhaps.

Photo by Greg Raterman

Its wings are ornately painted, and when seen well the Black Witch is a thing of beauty. However, not all people consider them welcome, and much superstitious nonsense has come to shroud the moth. A Spanish name for this species is Mariposa de la Muerte, or "butterfly of death". Legend has it that if someone is ill in the casa, and a Black Witch enters, they'll soon die. A better myth has it that if the moth enters a dwelling, flies to all four corners in a room, someone inside dies.

I took this photo a few years back, in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas. Several Black Witches were feeding on oranges set out for orioles, and the fruit offers a size scale, revealing the massive proportions of the moth.

Congratulations to Greg Raterman for an outstanding find, and I thank him for sharing it with us. There are probably some others flying around out there, somewhere - if you see a Black Witch, please let me know.


Jason Kessler said...

Yikes, what a beauty!

It puts me in mind of Gustav Klimpt.

Jim McCormac said...

For those of you - like me - not hip to Gustav Klimt, check here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustav_Klimt

Good observation, Jason!


Ben Warner said...

Jim! I had one of these at Blacklick Metro Park a few weeks ago. I was very excited as well. I could kick myself that I didn't have my camera when I saw it. Its such a cool moth.

Unknown said...

Left a window open in basement last week. I went to shut it and found a black witch on the sill. A very pleasant surprise.


As always, click the image to enlarge At the onset of last Monday's aquatic expedition (perhaps more on that later) to Rocky Fork ...