Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Ding-dong the witch is dead


The other evening, while dining at an outdoor restaurant on the back side of the island, we were visited by a money bat. It flapped about our table, attracted I suspect by the sweetness of my daughter's margarita or my wife's white wine.

Ascalapha odoraata. The nocturnal black witch moth. As large as an adult's hand.

Here on the island they are often called "money bats," because of the intricate bill-like markings on their wings. "Bats" because anything black that flies at night is a "bat."

Most places in Central America and the Caribbean their local names are associated with "witches," "devils" and "death." They are supposed to embody the souls of the dead. Everywhere, including here, they are –- or were -– encountered with dread.

That superstitious folklore is vanishing. And so is the money bat.

When we first came here 20 years ago, money bats were common. The perched on the rims of our wine glasses as we sat on the terrace. They plastered themselves against the walls under the eaves and against the window screens. They were beautiful, mysterious and welcome.

It's been two years since I've seen a money bat around the house. Our own little extinction event. Our own loss of biodiversity. And who is to blame? I must accept my share. My coming here was part of the beginning of the end.

Traditions, lore, indigenous species, dark skies: the very things that drew us here are our victims. We tried to treat the environment gently, but even gentle touches, multiplied in sufficient numbers, can destroy. Not even the spirits of the dead can survive development.