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Macabre Moth Motif
Emily 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 the 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 apotheosisnote .

This trope is not well supported by Real Life; the biological differences between moths and butterflies are small, with both families containing colorful and drab, nocturnal and diurnal species. But nobody ever let a little science get in the way of a good bit of symbolism.

No relation to Wallet Moths.

Note: To qualify as examples they must be intended to cause dread and/or fear by the author and/or the invoking character. This trope is not a more specific Big Creepy-Crawlies focused on moths.


Examples:

Anime
  • In the Cowboy Bebop movie, the genetic tampering the villain underwent causes him to constantly hallucinate swarms of what are referred to as butterflies, but their ghostly whiteness and eerie atmosphere seems to invoke this trope.
  • In the Revolutionary Girl Utena movie, one scene has a flashback of a young Touga getting raped by his adopted father in a field full of Cabbage White butterflies intercut with scenes of a nude Shiori sprouting white wings formed out of bedsheets. Given the symbolism of the scene is parasitism and "cruel innocence" it fits this trope.

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 in his demonic Drury Walker / Charaxes incarnation.

Film
  • Mama has moths appear whenever she's nearby or about to make a "physical" appearance. In this case, the moths are attracted to her because her corpse was left to rot in a lake, and moths nested in it before burrowing out. At the end, when Lily is taken by Mama off of a cliff Lily is transformed into a blue moth rather than straight up die. Probably?
  • The Moth Diaries, about a new girl in a boarding school who may or may not be a vampire, features heavy moth symbolism.
  • The Possession has 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, Clarice 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.
  • Averted in The Lord of the Rings films, where a moth seems to be the go-between for Gandalf and his eagle friends. It's certainly playing on the mystery and magic of the motif, though.
  • Also averted with Mothra, a gigantic moth in the Godzilla universe, who is generally depicted as benevolent, but vengeful. Played closer-to-straight with her angrier counterpart, Battra, who features in the 1992 Godzilla vs. Mothra.
  • Swarms of moths adorn "Manos" The Hands of Fate. In their defense, they couldn't help it: they were attracted to the location shooting's bright lights!

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 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.
  • In one of Joe Hill's short stories in the collection 20th Century Ghosts, a ghost in a movie theater appears friendly and normal at first, but after people interact with her for a little while strange things start happening, including creepy white moths gathering all around her.
  • Playing straight into the trope, one of Wolfgang Hohlbein's Hexer von Salem stories features entire swarms of moths magically altered to cause rapid aging in anything and anyone they touch and under an intelligent antagonist's control. (The moths themselves are no smarter than usual.)
  • The slake-moths of Perdido Street Station. They're sort of like Aliens... except much, much worse.
  • In Carlos Ruiz Zafón's Marina, a special kind of moth is associated with Kolvenik. Later is revealed that they literally maintain his life.

Music
  • French Black Metal band Peste Noire made a song entitled "Phalènes et Pestilence - Salvatrice Averse" ("Moths and Pestilence - Saving Downpour"), which mentions moths in a long metaphoric description of a plague epidemic.

Tabletop Games
  • All things fae in Changeling The Dreaming have a colorful, stylized butterfly symbol. The Kiasyd, who are a hybrid of faeries and vampires, turn this to the morbid with their death's-head moth symbol, and spend a lot of time around moths in art (perhaps because of their habit of frequenting places full of old books).

Video Games
  • Silent Hill 1 has two enemies, Twinfeeler and Floatstinger, a larva 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.
  • 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.
    • Its predecessor Ocarina of Time also had moth statues in the horror-themed Shadow Temple. Said moth is actually a boss from A Link to the Past and Oracle of Seasons. While his dungeons (Skull Woods and Poison Moth's Lair, respectively) were fairly dark, its status as this trope is more questionable.
  • Morph Moth from Mega Man X2 actually makes a fairly frightening boss, inhabiting a dusky robot grave/junkyard with zombie robots, and transforming from a fairly harmless pendulum/cocoon.
  • In Darkfall: 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.
  • In the Dawnguard expansion for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a type of magical moth is needed for a ritual to safely read an Elder Scroll, tying them into the implied Cosmic Horror Story that the Scrolls represent. The scholars who study the scrolls are called "Moth Priests".

Web Comics
  • Giant vampire moths feature in THAT, a side-story to the webcomic Bad Machinery.

Western Animation

Real Life
  • The Death's-head sphinx has coloring that looks like a human skull on its back.
  • The Black witch moth, an omen of death and bad luck.
  • Famously, the peppered moth became murky because of the massive levels of pollution brought on by the Industrial Revolution in England.note 
  • Adult moths can't chew; generally either they drink nectar from flowers, or they don't eat at all. The only known exception is the Malayan bloodsucking moth, which drinks blood rather like a mosquito.
  • Moth caterpillars can bite and chew, but any given species will have only a few things that it eats, and most are herbivorous.


The Laws of MagicMotifsOuroboros
Killer GorillaScary Animals IndexManiac Monkeys
Japanese Beetle BrothersInvertebrate IndexPretty Butterflies
MacGuffin MeleeAdded Alliterative AppealMachete Mayhem
The PossessionImageSource/Live-Action FilmsPush

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