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The 'Money Bat' or Black Witch Moth

Some animals and plants gain their place in folklore merely by their appearance. The Money Bat, Bat Moth or Black Witch is just one of these. A spectacular giant among moths, the Money Bat may not be seen for months or even years, and then a number may be seen in quick succession. Of course, this moth is not a bat, but has been so named in the Bahamas because of its large size and its fluttering flight which resembles that of a bat. Like most moths, it is a nocturnal flyer, often resting during the day under the eaves of buildings or even inside houses.

In Cat Island, it is said that if a Money Bat lands on you, then you will come into money. Similarly, in parts of Texas, the story is similar  - that you will win the lottery! In Central America, and in particular Mexico, the folklore is quite different. The Aztecs knew the 'Money Bat' as the Butterfly of Death, mariposa de la muerte - probably because of its dark colour. 

There are a number of other superstitions associated with this moth, but they are just that superstition - with no basis in fact whatsoever. This Money Bat is totally harmless, it cannot bite, sting, or carry disease. Like other moths and butterflies, it has no mouth as such, but a long thin coiled tube under its head called a proboscis, which it uses to suck plant nectar from flowers.

The Money Bat is found from Brazil as far north as Texas and Florida, with the largest population probably being in Mexico. It can migrate great distances - especially with the wind behind it. In 2003, Hurricane Claudette brushed the Yucatan peninsula , passed Jamaica and then crossed the Gulf of Mexico, making landfall in Texas. Hundreds of Money Bats were seen in the eye of the hurricane and it is believed that they were carried to Texas by the winds of the hurricane. Although rarely seen they have been reported from many other states, and I have recently (August 2005) had reports of Money Bats from as far north as Ontario in Canada.

The Money Bat breeds in the Bahamas, and many of the caterpillar's food plants such as Cassias, Acacias, and the Mango are found throughout the islands. The caterpillar is almost two and a half inches long and has very prominent orange coloured spiracles or breathing holes along its body.

 have had a report from 'John' on Eleuthera, that these big caterpillars feed on Fig leaves there. Please let me know if you have seen these caterpillars on your island.

The Money Bat and many of its close relatives have very acute hearing, and can hear the sounds made by Bats up to a frequency  of 100 kilocycles a second. As Bats are predators of this moth, this obviously has great survival value. In the bush near the Fox Hill Blue Hole one August, I disturbed several Money Bats from their roosts when I was often many yards away from them.

 

Rod Attrill