Black Witch Moth

Ascalapha odorata

Last updated: June 16, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Martin Rudlof Photography/Shutterstock.com

Some folklore associate Black Witch Moths with bad luck (and even death!), while other associates them with good fortune.

Black Witch Moth Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Arthropoda
Class
Insecta
Order
Lepidoptera
Family
Erebidae
Genus
Ascalapha
Scientific Name
Ascalapha odorata

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.


Black Witch Moth Facts

Name Of Young
Caterpillars
Fun Fact
Some folklore associate Black Witch Moths with bad luck (and even death!), while other associates them with good fortune.
Most Distinctive Feature
Their large size
Distinctive Feature
Comma-shaped designs on each wing
Other Name(s)
Bat Moth
Wingspan
6 - 7 inches
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal
Favorite Food
Black Witch Moth caterpillars like to eat legumes, acacia, mesquite, and Kentucky coffee. Adults Adult Black Witch Moths feast on ripe, soft tropical fruit such as bananas and on tree sap.
Common Name
Black Witch Moth

Black Witch Moth Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Black
  • Purple

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View all of the Black Witch Moth images!



If you see a large, brown Black Witch Moth fly into your home, beware.

Not because it is dangerous. In fact, this harmless moth is common in many areas of Central America and migrates through the United States and even Canada. However, these moths are considered to be a harbinger of death or bad luck in many folklore traditions from these areas. Despite its spooky history and name, the Black Witch Moth is a mild-mannered moth that can boast a host of colorful details in addition to its brown camouflage color.

Species, Types, and Scientific Name

Black Witch Moths, or Ascalapha odorata, are part of the Ascalapha genus. This genus was categorized in 1809. It belongs to the Erebidae family and the Noctuoidea super-family. The Black Witch Moth is actually the largest member of the Noctuoids, which includes some of the largest moths out there. Moths are part of the Lepidoptera order, which also includes butterflies.

Moths are distinct from butterflies, although both are part of the Lepidoptera order. Both butterflies and moths have similar structures, but moths keep their wings extended while resting, whereas butterflies fold their wings. They are also awake at different times. Moths are nocturnal, which means that they’re awake at night. Butterflies are diurnal, so they’re awake during the day.

Black Witch Moths, known by the species name A. odorata in the scientific community, are one of the largest moths. They are the largest in the Noctuoida super-family, although this method of classification within this super-family has gone through recent new research. Moths are classified according to their wing structure as adults.

Appearance: How to Identify Black Witch Moths

Black Witch Moths are often identified first by their size. They are the largest of the Noctuoid moths. Their wingspans as adults can reach 7 inches across. That is an impressive moth! Just imagine finding this winged creature, which some even mistake for a bat due to its large size and shape, flying at you during the night!

Female moths tend to be larger than male moths. However, both can get quite large. With a 6-7 inch wingspan, these moths are hard to miss. It’s no surprise that they got a spooky reputation in most folklore.

Their forewings are pointed at the front, another key feature for identification. They are dark brown in color, another feature they share with bats. They do have some color and design on their wings, including two distinct comma-shaped designs on the top of their wings. Female Black Witch Moths have purple iridescent and white lines. Males only have the purple iridescent portion and are a bit darker overall.

Black Witch Moths begin their life as caterpillars that feed on cassia, catclaw, and the leaves of hardwoods like acacia and mesquite. They are also large, reaching up to 3 inches. They are brown and black in color, similar to the darker hues seen on the adults when they become moths.

male adult black witch moth
The female Black Witch Moth’s wingspan can reach 7 inches across!

Vinicius R. Souza/Shutterstock.com

Habitat

Black Witch Moths are native to Central America, some parts of South America, and southern parts of the United States. Residents in South Florida and South Texas are very familiar with these moths. In their native homes of Mexico and the Caribbean, Black Witch Moths are bad omens. If one flies into your home, some cultures believe that someone in the home will soon die.

These moths migrate north in late Spring. Adults eventually call most areas of the United States home. Some are even as far north as Wisconsin and Michigan. Because their preferred food sources aren’t as common in those areas, they aren’t a common sight.

Hawaii has a growing population of Black Witch Moths. It’s thought that strong winds helped Black Witch Moths make their way to the distant islands at some point. They have become a part of Hawaiian folklore and are thought to represent deceased loved ones saying their final goodbyes.

Some people consider these moths to bearers of good fortune. They believe that seeing one will bring financial well-being and even luck. See a Black Witch Moth and it may be time to buy a lottery ticket!

Black Witch Moths sometimes travel via strong winds. One research study found reports of Black Witch Moths miles and miles away from their known habitat. Researchers saw a male on Gough Island, roughly 3500 kilometers away from the nearest natural habitat of these moths. Winds often carry just one moth away to new locations. Remarkably, the moth arrived unharmed and was collected and donated to the South African Museum.

Diet

Black Witch Moth caterpillars like to eat legumes, acacia, mesquite, and Kentucky coffee. Due to their large size, these little guys have to eat quite a bit to grow into the 3-inch caterpillars and later the 6-7 inch moths. While not a big problem for many farmers, they can be a nuisance for those that cultivate acacia and mesquite especially. They eat the leaves, however, and only use the wood for shelter.

Adult Black Witch Moths feast on ripe, soft tropical fruit such as bananas. They also eat tree sap when available. Adults only live a few weeks, although there are usually overlapping generations of Black Witch Moths emerging in their main habitat areas. They become a common sight in these areas and are seen less on the edges of their range. Their feeding habits also vary, based on what food sources are available.

Prevention: How to Get Rid of Black Witch Moths

Black Witch Moths are harmless moths and don’t pose a threat to farmers or the larger population. Other than their sinister reputation in folklore, they are interesting moths that are fun to watch and won’t both anyone or anything. They don’t eat other insects and don’t help or hurt the larger ecosystem.

When they migrate or are blown to other areas, they are not an invasive species. Due to their long and often hazardous journey, these moths are often tattered and unable to live long enough to mate, lay eggs, and impact the ecosystem.

If you do want to get rid of these moths, the best thing to do is remove or relocate their preferred food source. Similar to constructing a butterfly garden or pollinator garden to attract butterflies or bees, you can make a moth garden to bring Black Witch Moths to a better spot. We recommend setting one up in a remote area of your property if they are becoming a nuisance.

Common insecticides also work, although we don’t recommend going that route for Black Witch Moths. Because they are not harmful to people, pets, or other plants (other than their natural food source), applying insecticide will do more harm than good.

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About the Author

Katie is a freelance writer and teaching artist specializing in home, lifestyle, and family topics. Her work has appeared in At Ease Magazine and The Spruce, among others. When she is not writing, Katie teaches Creative Writing at Indian Creek School and was awarded an Author Fellowship to Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. She also enjoys spending time with her three kids and cat.

Black Witch Moth FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are Black Witch Moths dangerous?

No, Black Witch Moths are not dangerous to people or pets. They do not feed on crops or impact crop growth. Their preferred food source as caterpillars is the leaves of hardwood trees, especially acacia and mesquite.
Black Witch Moths do have a reputation in folklore as a bad omen. Seeing one may mean that death is nearby. However, some cultures see them as signs of financial luck coming soon. Depending on how you interpret a Black Witch Moth sighting and how much you place in folklore legends, you may want to avoid them or embrace them.

How many legs does a Black Witch Moth have?

A Black Witch Moth has six legs. All members of the Insect class have six legs, a head, a thorax, and an abdomen. This includes the Black Witch Moth. Black Witch Moths also have four wings: two forewings and two hindwings. This is true for all moths and butterflies.

How do you identify a Black Witch Moth?

Three main factors identify a Black Witch Moth. First, their large size is easy to spot and very distinct. Adult females are the largest and grow up to 6-7 inches in wingspan. Second, their overall brown color helps identify them as Black Witch Moths. Sometimes called Bat Moths, this name was given after many people mistook them for bats due to their size and coloring. Finally, Black Witch Moths have comma-shaped designs on their wings, one on each side. These markings are distinct to Black Witch Moths.

How do you get rid of Black Witch Moths?

While they are harmless, you may want to keep Black Witch Moths away for convenience. Plant their preferred food sources in another area to lure them away. Insecticides also work, although aren’t generally recommended for Black Witch Moths.

If you live in an area on the edge of their habitat range, just wait for a few days and the Black Witch Moths will likely go away on their own. After migrating or traveling on the winds, the vast majority of Black Witch Moths are too tattered and worn out to mate and establish their presence in their new home for more than just a few days.

Are Black Witch Moths rare?

Black Witch Moth sightings depend on your location. In their natural habitat of Central America, South Florida, South Texas, the Caribbean, and parts of South America, Black Witch Moths are very common. They are sometimes mistaken for bats, however, based on their large size and coloring.

In their migratory areas, Black Witch Moths are rarer although still not uncommon. Most areas of the United States and even Canada are hospitable for Black Witch Moths. Sighting are rare enough in these parts, however, to make most people take notice. Due to their large size, Black Witch Moths can attract quite a bit of attention when seen in their non-native areas.

Remember that like all moths, Black Witch Moths are nocturnal. This means that they are active at night. If you try to look for them during the day, they will not be as active and easy to spot.

What does it mean if you see a Black Witch Moth?

Scientifically, seeing a Black Witch Moth means that you either live in an area of their natural habitat or you are lucky enough to see an adult who made the treacherous migratory journey (or was picked up by a strong wind).

In folklore, seeing a Black Witch Moth can be a lucky or unlucky omen, depending on who you ask. Some cultures, such as Mexico and the Caribbean, believe that a Black Witch Moth flying into your home means that someone in your home is about to die. Some cultures believe that the moth must fly into all four corners of the room for this to be true.

Hawaiian tradition says that the Black Witch Moth is actually the spirit of a recently deceased person saying their final goodbyes. If someone that you know has died recently, a Black Witch flying into your home can be quite comforting.

Some cultures believe that a Black Witch Moth landing on you means that you will experience financial good fortune soon. If it lands on your doorway, you might even win the lottery!

Sources
  1. Nature, Available here: https://blog.nature.org/science/2020/10/12/black-witch-moths-a-night-time-trick-or-treat/
  2. Desert USA, Available here: https://www.desertusa.com/insects/black-witch-moth.html
  3. Bugs University of Florida, Available here: http://bugs.ufl.edu/bug-pix/bugs-around-house-gallery/black-witch-moth/
  4. University of Milwaukee, Available here: https://uwm.edu/field-station/black-witch-moth/

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