Black Witch Moths (Ascalapha odorata)
in the Eyes of Tropical Storms

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I occasionally receive reports of Black Witch moths near where hurricanes or tropical storms came ashore, 
but only storms Claudette (2003) and Cindy (2005) generated BWMs reports in the 100s to 1000s range.

The eye of Hurricane Claudette hit Port O'Connor, Texas on July 15, 2003.
Here's Brush Freeman's account:

Freeman, B. 2003. 
A Fallout of Black Witches (Ascalapha odorata) Associated with Hurricane Claudette
News of the Lepidopterists' Society 45(3): 71. 

"We went directly through the eye where winds dropped from ~110 mph to near 0 in just a matter of a few minutes." [...]

"As we began scanning the bay [looking for vagarant birds] we quickly became aware of large numbers of Black Witches flying over the very rough waters. We soon realized that these moths were literally everywhere, many had made landfall and were flying around the homes on the beach. More than 10 were seeking shelter in the rafters under the Hockeyís balcony alone. All in all we estimated that there must have been hundreds along the  front beach or over the bay and every scope view of the bay produced one toseveral individuals." [...]

"After the stormís passage we were busy with clean up and repairs but not so busy that we did not have the time to see these moths
in virtually every nook and cranny where they had sought shelter" [...]

"After the stormís passage we were busy with clean up and repairs but not so busy that we did not have the time to see these moths
in virtually every nook and cranny where they had sought shelter."

Separately, John Barrow's reported after arriving at his home in Port O'Connor, "I observed 75-100 perching on my house--in the garage area--on the walls and ceiling when I arrived in POC two days after the storm passage. Would have been 7/18. Numbers diminshed each day and after 3 or 4 days they were all gone."

The following reports are from Grand Isle on the coast of Louisiana where the eye of Tropical Storm Cindy hit on July 5, 2005:

----- Sent: Thursday, July 14, 2005 8:35 AM

The eye basically passed directly over us. We had tremendous rain, substantial wind then about 2 hours of calm. Then it hit, winds from the North at 70-80mph..

----- Sent: Wednesday, July 13, 2005 10:11 AM

I wound have to say thousands, as I have been seeing numerous moths everywhere I go. And the people on the island keep calling. They think they are butterflies that escaped when the Grand Isle Butterfly Dome was destroyed in the storm. I am the editor of the local paper, and did an article on black witches, after a smaller fallout last year. I am having to educate people numerous times every day, explaining that they are not butterflies or BATS.

----- Sent: Thursday, July 07, 2005 1:51 PM

After Tropical storm/Hurricane Cindy the island is Full of Black Witch Moths

Wayne Keller 
Grand Isle Port Commission 
(504) 415-0102

Both reports were made right where the eye of each storm came ashore


Arrows indicate direction and point of landfall that the eye of each storm took

Note that both Claudette and Cindy crossed Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula,
the probable source of the BWMs deposited in the U.S.


Dotted lines on (clickable) maps show the track that the eye of each storm took

Post Tropical Storm Cindy BWM Reports Follow the Path of the Storm

Mississippi Harrison Co. Gulfport 05 July 2005 fresh female, clipped male, pix (seen by MAQ)
Mississippi Jackson Co. Ocean Springs 6-8 July 2005 ~10, photos of many (seen by MAQ)
Louisiana Jefferson Parish Grand Isle 07 July 2005 "Thousands" at eye of TS's  landfall
Mississippi Harrison Co. Long Beach 07 July 2005 male observed   
Mississippi Harrison Co. Gulfport 08 July 2005 2 males, 2 females, in fig tree, pix (seen by MAQ)
Mississippi Harrison Co. Biloxi  08 July 2005 "multiple males and females" 
Louisiana St. Bernard Parish Arabi 08 July 2005
Louisiana Plaquemines Parish Buras/Venice 7-8 July 2005 Two in two days
Louisiana Jefferson Parish Marrero 08 July 2005
Louisiana Orleans Parish New Orleans 08 July 2005 male, photo (seen by MAQ)
Mississippi Harrison Co. Pass Christian  10 July 2005 female, photo (seen by MAQ)
Louisiana Orleans Parish New Orleans 11 July 2005 2 males, in Business District Downtown
Louisiana E Baton Rouge Pa. Baton Rouge 16 July 2005 worn male, photo (seen by MAQ)


View Black Witch Moths and Huricanes in a larger map

News article on the BWMs in MS associated with TS Cindy

The Sun Herald  - South Mississippi - Tim Lockley - Sat, Jul. 16, 2005

Black Witch Moths Popping Up 

Prior to TS Cindy, this is the singular BWM record from Mississippi that I have specific data for:

Mississippi Jackson Co. Ocean Springs 26 Sept 2003  fresh male, photo



In 34 years of continuous light trapping in Louisiana, Vernon Brou (2003) collected 
about 25 Black Witch specimens, with most records collected in September.


Brou, V.A., Jr. 2003. Ascalapha odorata (L.) and Thysania zenobia (Cram.) in Louisiana. 
Southern Lepidopterists' News 25(3): 91. Full PDF

Both TS Arlene and Hurricane Dennis made landfall on the northern Gulf Coast 
before and after Tropical Storm Cindy in 2005 yet no BWMs were reported

Landfall Max  # of
Storm Location Date Winds BWMs 
TS Arlene  Florida 11 June


TS Cindy  Louisiana 05 July


Hurr. Dennis  Florida 10 July 



The storm tracks of Arlene or Dennis both missed the Yucatan Peninsula 
further suggesting that Mexico was the origin of Claudette's and Arlene's BWMs


Dotted lines on (clickable) maps show the track that the eye of each storm took

Illustrations of Hurricane Wind Dynamics:

vertical cross-section

(move cursor over letters to see wind speeds)

horizontal cross-section

computer model simulation of three-dimensional hurricane wind circulation

Request for Help

Please report new BWM county records to  
Please include date, location (distance to nearest town) & county of record.
Also please include sex, condition of moth & prevailing weather conditions.
If you find a new county record, please send a low resolution photo if possible. 
Thanks, Mike

15 July 2012 © Mike Quinn / / Texas Entomology