Evening had set in after a peaceful day exploring the lush tropical gardens which surrounded our Dominican eco-villa.
A day of kicking my feet up and allowing myself time to breath was much-needed after the eventful few days we’d had prior. I’d almost forgotten what it was like to feel serenity.
It had felt good to spend the entire day at our eco-villa, especially when we would be moving on to a new destination tomorrow morning. Trying to minimise as much stress as possible, I set to packing our bags as darkness started to fall outside.
“Is it raining?” Lewis suddenly asked, a panicked look in his eyes.
I strained my ears to hear as another tropical downpour took place. “It won’t be for long.”
Lewis was concerned about the frequent bursts of showers. His only way out of the eco-villas was to wade through several rivers which was dangerous enough as it was without the rivers being full with fresh rain water. We could only hope that the rain wasn’t enough to make the water levels rise.
As I folded another item of clothing and placed it in one of our packing cubes, I glanced at the wooden beams on the ceiling above me. Then I squealed in terror.
“M…m….moth!” I called.
I felt cold dread as I laid eyes on the huge black moth on our bedroom ceiling. With a wingspan of 17cm, the Black Witch Moth is one of the largest moths in the world. And I was bloody terrified of moths as it was.
I’d spotted one of these moths the night before but thankfully in the communal area.
As I’d tried to sleep last night I couldn’t help but feel nervous. What if a moth made its way through the wide slats in the many doors of our villa?
Last night had been scary.
I can’t just sleep through the night like a normal person and block out any thoughts of moths. Nope, I have a small bladder that comes alive at night. As I’d made my way to the toilet and turned the bathroom light on, I had been shocked to see a small moth on the wall.
Oh great, I can’t pee in peace!
At least it was small and so despite being incredibly on-edge, I was able to get some sleep.
Sleeping in the same room as countless critters was unnerving. After knocking a family of cockroaches off my bed last night, I had found myself hearing the occasional pitter patter and crunch as the resident lizards ate the easy meal I had thrown from them. Still, at least they weren’t moths.
Now I was panicking. The mother of all moths was in our room. How on earth was I to get a wink of sleep tonight? It was far too high up and too large to anyone to remove.
Oh my god. Oh my god. I started flapping around the room in a state of utter panic.
Black Witch Moths are also known as Butterflies of Death. There’s numerous superstitions about them in Caribbean and Mexican culture. Some believe that if a moth enters your house you will get bad luck. Mexicans go as far as to believe that if a Black Witch Moth visits all corners of your house, someone in your household would die.
Now I’m not exactly superstitious or anything but this doesn’t exactly make me feel reassured about the critter.
These moths are not commonly documented in Dominica but research shows they most frequently appear in neighbouring Caribbean islands in the month of September – the month we were currently in.
Great! So not only had I booked the worst month in terms of weather as it was the peak of the hurricane season, but I’d also booked our trip in the peak of moth season too.
I just prayed that whilst we were at the main lodge having dinner, the moth would leave. We turned all the lights off and went to dinner. Surely he would be interested in the lights outside and bugger off?
But he wasn’t. Of course he wasn’t.
When we returned from our delicious dinner, the Black Witch Moth was still there, in the exact same spot. I wanted to scream and cry at the same time.
Getting ready for bed was a nerve-wracking experience. Our freestanding bathtub was the epitome of luxury but there I was scanning the ceiling every few seconds, trying to have the quickest bath possible and examining my towel thoroughly before using it.
By the time we were ready to turn the lights out, we took one last look at the moth. He was still there, apparently dormant.
There was nothing else we could do. I would have to sleep in the same room as one of the biggest moths on the planet.
Supressed memories of my childhood came flooding back.
I recalled the time when I was very young, perhaps five years old, and my parents were out, leaving me in the company of a babysitter. I had gone to bed but noticed a small moth on my ceiling. I fetched my babysitter to remove it. I wasn’t a fan of any insect in my room.
“Do not call me back to remove anymore.” She snapped as she took the tiny moth away.
I was startled by her hostility but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. So I turned my lights off and snuggled into bed.
As I lay there surrounded by hazy darkness, I noticed a large black smudge on the ceiling above my head, about the size of a golf ball. I’m sure that’s not normally there. My blood went cold with terror.
Could that be a moth? A huge moth?
But I couldn’t fetch my babysitter to remove it. She’d made it clear she wasn’t coming to get anymore. Then a thought came to me. Why did she specify that she wouldn’t remove any more moths? Did she know it was here?
I tried convinced myself that the smudge had always been there but the feeling of fear wouldn’t leave. I was a five year old with a potentially huge moth in my room which my babysitter was refusing to remove.
Eventually, after what felt like hours, I drifted off to sleep.
When I awoke the next day, the first thing I did was check if the smudge was there so I could reassure myself. Except the smudge was nowhere to be found.
I felt sick. Had I just slept the whole night with a huge moth over my head? It was gone now which meant it had been flying around me in the night. The thought was enough to make me want to sob.
As the days passed, I couldn’t forget about the moth. I was terrified of my room, of every dark patch that looked out of place. But if I stared at anything for long enough in the dark it looked like it was moving. My room wasn’t safe anymore.
One day I opened my wardrobe and the body of a huge moth tumbled out and landed beside me. I leapt up in horror. I was convinced this had been the moth that was on my ceiling the other day.
At this point in my life I had never seen a moth so big before. I was used to moths she size of fingernail and so to see one this big up close felt like I was trapped in a nightmare – a nightmare where everything was five times its usual size. I couldn’t believe my babysitter had been so cruel to let me sleep with that above my head.
I’m convinced this is where my fear of moths stems from.
And now, for the second time in my life, I was having to sleep with a huge ass moth on my ceiling and no one was going to remove it.
It comes as no surprise to learn that I struggled to sleep that night.
I prayed that the moth would either not move all night or would leave. However I concluded that neither were likely.
At some point I knew I was going to have to go to the toilet as well and the last thing I wanted to do was encounter that moth. I would have to turn the bathroom light on which would be an irresistible lure to the moth. Oh my god, what if he flew over to me whilst I was peeing?
Somehow I managed to sleep.
A noise had startled me. A weird flapping noise. I began to hazily open my eyes but for a moment everything seemed blurry.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a large dark object throwing itself at the mosquito net that was hanging over our heads. Again and again it threw itself into the netting, making horrific fluttering noises.
My eyes flew open. What the hell? Was it a bat? It was about the size of a bat.
I was still in a sleep-like state when the horrific realisation hit me. It wasn’t a bat. The moth was trying to get into our bed! And it was fucking huge. Bigger than I could have imagined.
I watched as its fat brown body and manic black wings beat against the mosquito net with surprising force for a moth. The netting rippled beneath its weight. Again and again it tried to get in, hovering just centimetres from where I slept. Its movements were frantic and determined.
It was so close to my face.
I opened my mouth to scream.
At first nothing came out but eventually my vocal cords kicked in. “Lewis!”
In this moment I felt more terrified than I have ever felt in my life. Give me hippos chasing me round a campsite any day over this.
Finally, after a last hysterical attempt to break through the netting, the moth took off and fluttered into a dark corner of the room. My wide eyes stared at the spot where it had been and I began to tremble.
Lewis was finally starting to shift beside me. How on earth had my screams not woken him?
“Lewis. Lewis. Lewis.”
“Huh?” He barely moved.
“T…the…the…huge moth was trying to get through our mosquito net.”
He fell back to sleep and I was left alone. Trembling.
And at that moment I realised I needed to pee.
This situation was strikingly similar to the time I was chased by a hippo in the night when I needed to pee in Zambia. I had run back to my tent to safety, surviving my inches, and then lay trembling in my tent for hours, holding in my pee.
Well the exact same thing was happening now. Except I’d been attack by a moth not a hippo. The feeling of terror was the same and the unbearable urge to pee was the same.
Oh, pull yourself together Ella! I tried to tell myself. It’s a moth. It can’t hurt you. Just go and pee.
I thought of our hosts Melissa and Andy who probably slept with Black Witch Moths in their room every night and didn’t bat an eyelid. They probably didn’t even sleep with a mosquito net covering them. Why was I so pathetic?
I lay trembling in that bed for hours, ready for the moth’s next surprise attack.
Finally, the urge to pee got too much so I bit the bullet and faced my darkest fears.
I scuttled out of the bed, ensuring the mosquito net was firmly shut behind me and ran to pee. The whole time I was terrified I was about to be ambushed but the moth never came.
At last I was able to crawl to safety and try to sleep through the rest of the night.