Created By: Earnest on September 11, 2012 Last Edited By: Earnest on September 30, 2012
Troped

Macabre Moth Motif

Moths about? Not a good sign.

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Formerly Moth Of Dark Portent and Everything Is Murky With Moths.

Caption: This girl wishes she had an Incurable Cough of Death instead.

Butterflies are seen as symbols of death and rebirth as well as transformation. But if you take away their beauty and make them nocturnal, you end up discovering a Macabre Moth Motif.

Because moths are very much like equal and opposite mirror images of butterflies -- alike in shape, flight and metamorphosis, unlike in that they're dark, weighed down with negative stigma and nocturnal -- they can be used as generic symbolism for Bad StuffTM whenever the plot needs it. This includes but isn't limited to: poison, the supernatural, Demonic Possession, death and apotheosis[[note]](a dark transformation)[[/note]].


Examples:

Comic Books
  • The Batman villain "Killer Moth" wasn't initially dark, wearing a garish costume with striped purple and green spandex, orange cape and a moth-like mask. Later on though, he was redesigned to look more menacing Drury Walker / Charaxes.

Film
  • The Moth Diaries, about a new girl in a boarding school who may or may not be a vampire, features heavy moth symbolism.
  • Giant kaiju monster Mothra subverts this trope, embodying all the good aspects of the Butterfly of Death and Rebirth. Albeit, she's also far more brightly colored than your typical moth and has a fair number of evil / anti heroic counterparts.
  • The page pic comes from the movie The Possession, where the moths presage the oncoming Demonic Possession and transformation awaiting Emily.
  • The Mothman Prophecies: In this film adaptation, Mothman is named for a Ukrainian myth of the moth as a psychopomp or dark angel.
  • In The Silence of the Lambs Starling finds the pupa of a black witch moth inside the mouth of one of "Buffalo Bill"'s victims. The film changes it to a death's-head sphinx, and features it on the poster.

Literature
  • In Arcia Chronicles, large gray moths are usually a sign of dark magic at work (especially of the Cialian tradition). Only magically-gifted people can see these magical moths, however.
  • Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Sphinx: The narrator is horrified when when he sees a humongous moth-monster with the image of a human skull on it. Then he realizes that it was just a normal moth, it was just much closer than he realized.
  • In The Tatami Galaxy, one of the characters is phobic about moths because of this, and will have panic attacks if one lands on her.
  • In The Hobbit, when the party is traveling through Mirkwood they go without campfires at night rather than attract the swarms of huge black moths that come out at night. Though not actually harmful, they're very unpleasant.
  • Inkdeath, a book which as the title suggests, is replete with symbols and imagery of death, features several dark moths on its cover.

Music videos

Video Games
  • The first Silent Hill has two enemies, Twinfeeler and Floatstinger, a larvae and moth respectively (or rather, the game has one enemy with two forms). It's notable above being a random enemy because Alessa, the dark force moving the town against Harry, had a moth collection growing up which she uses as a basis for Floatstinger. Beyond that, Alessa herself is transformed two or three times through the game. First by being burned to near death, then when she's reunited into a godlike being, and finally when the god sealed inside her is released into a demonic form.
  • Pokémon Venomoth. Also Dustox. Although Wurmple's other possible final form, Beautifly, is totally not the good butterfly you imagine. Only Dustox is a moth though. Mothim, eh...kinda. It does steal honey from Combee.
  • In Devil May Cry 2 Dante and Lucia fight an enormous moth as one of the bosses. The moth by itself isn't dangerous, but the eggs it lays hatch into larva that try to eat them.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, the boss Odolwa will at one point summon a cloud of moths to harass Link. They can be wiped out with a bomb, as they will be drawn to its fuse.
  • Morph Moth from Megaman X 2.
  • In Dark Fall: Lost Souls, one of the hotel rooms is filled with pupae suspended from the ceiling, with nasty grubs inside that hiss and writhe creepily. Old paintings of moths are propped against the walls.

Western Animation

Real Life
  • The Death's-head sphinx has coloring that looks like a human skill on its back.
  • The Black witch moth, an omen of death and bad luck.
  • Point: Truth in Television. Moths are like demon spawn, especially if you have a closet full of clothes.
    • Counter-point: Real Life moths come in just as many colors as butterflies, and many species are active during the day, but nobody wants science in the way of their symbolism.
  • Famously, the peppered moth became murky because of the massive levels of pollution brought on by the Industrial Revolution in England.
  • Some moth caterpillars do eat clothes, but actually only wool or silk ones (they don't eat cotton). Clothes moths - the adult moths that is - don't eat clothes at all.
  • Most moths are not predatory. Though there are a few caterpillars of moths which will eat other caterpillars, these are the exception rather than the rule. Adult moths generally either do not eat or feed on nectar (they can't chew like the caterpillars, since they have that long, tubular proboscis.) There is one exception - the Malayan bloodsucking moth - which actually does feed on blood. It still has a tubular, siphoning mouth though.
Community Feedback Replies: 39
  • September 12, 2012
    abk0100
    That moth inside the murder victim's mouth at the beginning of silence of the lambs maybe? I'm not exactly sure what the trope is - is it just "moths = badness"?
  • September 12, 2012
    LeighSabio
    Truth In Television. Moths are like demon spawn.
  • September 12, 2012
    abk0100
    haha what
  • September 12, 2012
    chicagomel
    Pokemon Venomoth. Also Dustox. Although Wurmple's other possible final form, Beautifly, is totally not the good butterfly you imagine. Only Dustox is a moth though. Mothim, eh...kinda. It does steal honey from Combee.
  • September 12, 2012
    Generality
    • The Mothman Prophecies: In this film adaptation, Mothman is named for a Ukrainian myth of the moth as a psychopomp or dark angel. In the real events, he was named for an ill-known Batman villain that he somewhat resembled.
  • September 12, 2012
    Earnest
    I reworked the description to make it more to the point. Still, any suggestions for tweaks are welcome.
  • September 12, 2012
    abk0100
    Real Life:

    For the Silence of the Lambs example:

    • Starling finds the pupa of a black witch moth inside the mouth of one of "Buffalo Bill"'s victims. The film changes it to a death's-head sphinx, and features it on the poster.

    And one more

    Literature:
  • September 13, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    The Hobbit, when the party is traveling through Mirkwood they go without campfires at night rather than attract the swarms of huge black moths that come out at night. Though not actually harmful, they're very unpleasant.

  • September 14, 2012
    SKJAM
    • In Tatami Galaxy, one of the characters is phobic about moths because of this, and will have panic attacks if one lands on her.
  • September 14, 2012
    Astaroth
    Dante and Lucia fight an enormous moth as one of the bosses in Devil May Cry 2. The moth by itself isn't dangerous, but the eggs it lays hatch into larva that try to eat them.
  • September 20, 2012
    elwoz
    Real Life moths come in just as many colors as butterflies, and many species are active during the day, but nobody wants science in the way of their symbolism.
  • September 20, 2012
    TBeholder
    Hmm, looks like it's not about portents at all.

    Everything Is Murky With Moths?
  • September 21, 2012
    Koveras
    • In Arcia Chronicles, large gray moths are usually a sign of dark magic at work (especially of the Cialian tradition). Only magically-gifted people can see these magical moths, however.
  • September 25, 2012
    Generality
    • In The Legend Of Zelda Majoras Mask, the boss Odolwa will at one point summon a cloud of moths to harass Link. They can be wiped out with a bomb, as they will be drawn to its fuse.
  • September 25, 2012
    NightNymph
    ... Sorry: nerdy Entomologist comment ahead ...

    Most moths are not predatory. Though there are a few caterpillars of moths which will eat other caterpillars, these are the exception rather than the rule. Adult moths generally either do not eat or feed on nectar (they can't chew like the caterpillars, since they have that long, tubular proboscis.) There is one exception - the Malayan bloodsucking moth - which actually does feed on blood. It still has a tubular, siphoning mouth though.

    So basically I don't think the predatory part should be in the above description, since it isn't common enough and describes the caterpillars rather than the moths themselves when it does apply - except for that Malayan bloodsucking one.

    The nocturnal and "dark" parts, though, are true enough of the time for the pesky science stuff to not get in the way of the symbolism.
  • September 25, 2012
    Quatic
    Moths do eat your clothes tho. And to ward them off, you need mothballs. How they harvest those, I'll never know.
  • September 25, 2012
    NightNymph
    ^ Some moth caterpillars do eat clothes, but actually only wool or silk ones (they don't eat cotton). Clothes moths - the adult moths that is - don't eat at all.
  • September 25, 2012
    JonnyB
    Murky? How about Macabre instead.
  • September 25, 2012
    TheYellowWombat
    Mothman from The Mothman Prophecies did not get its name from a Batman villain. In fact, the Batman villain you are citing is called the "Killer Moth."
  • September 25, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    Going with an "everything's X with" name will likely just send it to TRS, as those names are already under discussion there.
  • September 26, 2012
    Chabal2
    Famously, the peppered moth became murky because of the massive levels of pollution brought on by the Industrial Revolution in England.
  • September 26, 2012
    Earnest
    Okay, how about Macabre Moth Motif instead?
  • September 26, 2012
    CaveCat
  • September 26, 2012
    lilliterra
    • Inkdeath, a book which as the title suggests, is replete with symbols and imagery of death, features several dark moths on its cover.
  • September 27, 2012
    Telcontar
    Macabre Moth Motif is really good; I don't generally associate moths with murkiness, but certainly death. It also avoids this sounding like a snowclone (the current title barely avoids being Everythings Xer With Y).
  • September 27, 2012
    GeminiSparkSP
    Morph Moth from Megaman X2.
  • September 27, 2012
    johnnye
    There's an ongoing project to purge the wiki of Everything Is X With Y snowclones. Please don't launch with this name.

    Macabre Moth Motif is quite good. Or just Moths Are Macabre?
  • September 27, 2012
    Quatic
    How about simply Moth Murkiness?
  • September 27, 2012
    WarriorSparrow
    I like the Macabre Moth Motif option too.
  • September 28, 2012
    SKJAM
    Compare the visual trope of moth as symbol of poverty--the character opens a wallet and a moth flies out to indicate it's empty.
  • September 28, 2012
    SharleeD
    Macabre Moth Motif is better than Moths Are Macabre, IMO, because the latter makes it sound like only appearances by actual moths count, whereas "Motif" would also allow for moth-imagery in in-universe artwork, clothing, etc.

    • Inverted in the Lord Of The Rings films, in which the appearance of a moth indicates Gandalf, one of the good guys, is about to escape or arrive.

    • In the video game Dark Fall: Lost Souls, one of the hotel rooms is filled with pupae suspended from the ceiling, with nasty grubs inside that hiss and writhe creepily. Old paintings of moths are propped against the walls.

    ^ The moths-from-wallet image suggests another grim association for this trope: moths as symbols of abandonment and neglect.
  • September 28, 2012
    Earnest
    ^ ^^ I think that'd be the trope Wallet Moths.
  • September 28, 2012
    abk0100
    I'm seconding the "please don't launch with this name". Macabre Moths or something like that is good.
  • September 29, 2012
    Stratadrake
    No new snowclone title, please.
  • September 29, 2012
    Noaqiyeum
    I'm concerned that this is going to end up as a dumping ground for any time a moth is referenced in fiction. (At least The Lord Of The Rings and Poets Of The Fall have not been mentioned yet, but some of the other examples still seem suspiciously inappropriate.)

    Moth Of Dark Portent was a somewhat better name in that regard, I think.
  • September 29, 2012
    LobsterMagnus
    • Giant vampire moths feature in THAT, a side-story to the webcomic Bad Machinery.
  • September 29, 2012
    Koveras
    The new title (Macabre Moth Motif) sounds good, Just Launch It Already.
  • September 30, 2012
    GoldenSpot5
    How do you make a moth even WORSE? Make it five feet tall, 101 pounds, give it towering Speed and Special Attack and set it on fire. That's pretty much the basics behind Volcarona in the Pokemon series. To be fair, they're a lot less macabre when they're on your team, but it's NOT fun going up AGAINST one.
  • September 30, 2012
    Earnest
    I'll launch this later tonight as Macabre Moth Motif after doing an example pruning to get rid of generic non-creepy moths.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=3vlf2a9kehrfsd91opex829o&trope=MacabreMothMotif