Thursday, September 03, 2009

son of the witch

[This photograph is the property of Howard Platt.
Used with his permission.]

"Everything is ruined by repetition -- even Paris."

I'm not certain who first said it, but it is true, and bears repeating. Of course, it would then be ruined.

It is one reason I have a general blog rule of no follow-up posts. Today is going to be an exception.

Yesterday I introduced you to my mysterious mothly visitor.

Last month Kim noted that he liked reading my blog because the people who leave comments are witty, interesting, and erudite. Well, they have proven that once again.

The little electrons were still warm from posting when Chrissy correctly identified it as a Black Witch Moth. My friend Howard Platt then dug into his silver mine of local knowledge and provided us with some background on this interesting moth.

(Besides being well-informed, Howard is a fantastic photographer. He took the photograph at the top of this post and gave me permission to use it.)

As an homage to Mexico Bob, who loves all things creepy and crawly, let me tell you what I have learned about this piece of fauna in my new home.

The Black Witch moth, or as it is known to its more scientific friends, Ascalapha odorata, is the largest moth in North America, with up to a 6 inch wingspan. For those of you who thought I was turning a pussy cat into a werewolf, it really is a big moth.

Size matters, but its black color is even more striking. (As you can see in Howard's picture, it is quite colorful under a flash light.)

Anything that big and black has to have a legend to go long with it. The name (Black Witch Moth) is good for starters. But try on the Mexican name: mariposa de la muerte (butterfly of death) -- a name it has borne since pre-Colombian days. (But not in Spanish -- you, of course, already knew that.)

I showed a Mexican neighbor the photograph. She repeated "muerte" several times. Then asked: "¿Donde?" I responded: "Aquí." I guess that was the wrong answer from the look on her face.

And here is why:

  • When there is sickness in a house and the moth enters, the sick person dies.
  • If the moth flies over a man's head, he will lose his hair.
  • If the moth lands and stays over a doorway, the resident will win the lottery.
  • If the moth rests in the carport, bloggers can talk about it for at least two days.
Those of you who are readers of suspense novels may know quite a bit about this moth. In Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris wrote that the serial killer, Buffalo Bill, put the pupae of the Black Witch Moth in the mouth of each victim. Thinking that was not creepy enough the movie did a one-shriek casting upgrade, fired the Black Witch Moth, and replaced it with a Death Head's Moth.

Legends accompany many "sinister" animals. In the movies, they become stars. In real life, they usually end up dead smashed with a shoe. I imagine that these black beauties must live very peril-filled lives toting around all of their superstitious baggage.

Thanks to bloggers who took the time to share, we all know something we did not know yesterday.


zannie said...

I don't know for sure that this is the same moth, but I encountered it at Cabo Pulmo in Baja:

That's a standard size coffee mug it's in.

Karen said...

Now that is one impressive moth and very beautiful. The Mexican critters continue to amaze me, have not seen anything like that here yet, thanks for the connection to the movie.

Michael Dickson said...

I cannot imagine that Paris is ruined by repetition.

Steve Cotton said...

Zannie -- It appears to be the same moth.

Karen -- Amazing indeed.

Felipe -- It has not yet happened to me.

Anonymous said...

Paris is an addiction and is not a moveable feast for me.

Steve - I am anxiously waiting for your posts to change to wine, women and song or any various equivalents of such pleasures.


1st Mate said...

So if it hangs out in your doorway and then flies over you (unless you're sick) you would then be a bald lottery winner. Hmmm, maybe not a bad tradeoff.

Anonymous said...

That is a beautiful moth. Thank you for the description and folklore.

I am so glad Jiggs got to enjoy the other dogs even tho’ he couldn’t always participate.


Residente Permanente said...

I hope Jiggs wasn't around when your little moth showed up.

Anonymous said...

Do people ever eat moths down there?

I know some cultures enjoy eating live termites; some enjoy deep fried termites.

Why not moths?

A Nony Moose

Steve Cotton said...

Rick -- As long as this heat keeps up, Jiggs and I are prisoners of our beach villa. Maybe something fun will happen in Salem in a couple weeks.

1st Mate -- Or win the lottery and die the next day. Now, there is a Poe tale awaiting the telling.

Mom -- It was quite a sight.

Inmigrante Rentista -- He actually came in the door the same time the moth did. He looked up at me, and asked: "Who's going to take care of me when you die?" The dog has an evil sense of humor.

A Nony Moose -- Best to catch them in the caterpillar stage when they are filled with protein.