Appearance''Ascalapha odorata'' is a large bat-shaped, dark-colored nocturnal moth. Males can attain a wingspan of 16 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. [Males lack this bar.] The diagnostic marking is a small spot on each forewing shaped like a number nine or a comma. This spot is often green with orange highlights. Females are somewhat smaller, reaching 12 cm in width, and lighter in color. The larva is a large caterpillar up to 7 cm in length with intricate patterns of black and greenish brown spots and stripes.
DistributionThe black witch moth is found throughout Central America and Mexico, with its distribution extending from Brazil to the southern United States. It is the largest noctuid found in the continental United States, Adults feed on overripe rainforest fruit, especially bananas, and larvae consume the leaves of plants. Most of its host plants are legumes. It favors ''Acacia'' species, Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus), and Candle Bush (Senna alata). It attacks mesquite and edible fig, and can be an agricultural pest.
The moth undertakes a northward migration during the late spring and summer, moving up through Central America and entering the northern reaches of its range. During this season individual adults and masses of larvae can be found from Texas to Florida. It is also found in Hawaii, but it is not native to the islands.
CulturalIn many cultures, one of these moths flying into the house is considered bad luck: e.g., in Mexico, when there is sickness in a house and this moth enters, it is believed the sick person will die, though a variation on this theme is that death only occurs if the moth flies in and visits all four corners of one's house . In some parts of Mexico, people joke that if one flies over someone's head, the person will lose his hair.
In Jamaica, under the name ''duppy bat'', the moth is seen as the embodiment of a lost soul or a soul not at rest. In Jamaican English, the word ''duppy'' is associated with malevolent spirits returning to inflict harm upon the living and ''bat'' refers to anything other than a bird that flies. The word "duppy" is also used in other West Indian countries, generally meaning "ghost".
In Hawaii, Black Witch mythology, though associated with death, has a happier note in that if a loved one has just died, the moth is an embodiment of the person's soul returning to say goodbye. In the Bahamas, where they are locally known as Money Moths or Moneybats, the legend is that if they land on you, you will come into money, and similarly, in South Texas, if a Black Witch lands above your door and stays there for a while you will supposedly win the lottery.Pupae of the Black Witch moth were placed in the mouths of victims by serial killer 'Buffalo Bill' in the novel The Silence of the Lambs. In the movie adaptation the moth was changed to a Death's-head Hawkmoth.
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