What is the Mothman?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Mothman is a legendary beast who allegedly roams the American state of West Virginia. Among other creatures, he is a topic of interest for cryptozoologists, people who study animals which seem to fall beyond normal taxonomic classifications. For the skeptics among us, one could also say that cryptozoologists study mythical creatures; examples of other topics of interest in the field include Nessie, the Yeti, mermaids, and dragons.

The Mothman allegedly roams the state of West Virginia.
The Mothman allegedly roams the state of West Virginia.

According to the stories, the Mothman was first spotted in November 1966 at a former weapons manufacturing plant in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Two young couples, who were on the land for unspecified reasons, said that they saw a giant, man-sized moth with glowing red eyes, which took off into flight once it was spotted. They reported the sighting to local law enforcement, triggering a rash of such sightings, which trickled off in December 1967, when the Silver Bridge collapsed, killing 46 people.

Sightings were reported by a wide range of people, typically around dusk or after dark, and they sometimes involved paranormal activity such as malfunctioning electronics. One report involved a dog, which allegedly was extremely upset for no apparent reason before the Mothman finally appeared; the next morning, the dog vanished, never to be seen again.

Many of the sightings shared common details, suggesting that people may have been reading the newspapers and being inspired, although one could also argue that these sightings were real, and this is why they shared commonalities. In almost all of the descriptions, the Mothman is said to be partially humanoid, with giant wings resembling those of a moth, and clawed feet and hands. In some legends, the Mothman has antennae as well.

Scientists have suggested that the rash of Mothman sightings were actually sightings of various large birds. Some birds such as cranes can get quite large, and they could have fooled people, especially in the dark or during the twilight hours. The red eyes of the Mothman can probably be attributed to a trick of light reflection, as anyone who has experienced "red eye" in a photograph knows. People are also very suggestible, and a single confused sighting of a bird could have planted the idea of the Mothman in the heads of many others.

The Mothman bears a lot of interesting similarities to the Garuda, a mythological Hindu creature with a humanoid figure and a large wingspan. It is possible that someone was reading a few too many Hindu myths and got a bit carried away. Cryptozoologists might argue that the failure to establish concrete evidence for the existence of the Mothman does not necessarily prove that he will never be found.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


My mom, my two brothers and I were walking in the woods near Lansdale, PA. We came to a spot with one of those ground green electric boxes -- the ones big enough to sit on -- and there was what looked like a tall man in a cloak. When it saw us, it flew vertically straight up in the sky. The cloak appeared to be dark, non-functioning wings. It flew straight up and was gone a few days later. We saw three lights above our house, almost like the being was inspecting our reaction, then we never saw it again.


I would have to say that I believe in most of those cultural legends. The main reason I believe they could be real is the fact that the same or similar stories are repeated in different cultures across the globe. I do not necessarily care whether they are real or not, but I do not discredit anyone for believing in supernatural beasts, experiences and the likes.


@ Highlighter- I find it interesting that unexplained phenomenon like the mothman prophesy are studied by scientists and pseudo scientists that all fall under the title of cryptozologists. I think that this adds to the mystery somewhat since there are cryptozoologists that are very versed in the sciences and others who are well versed in alternatives that are not always accepted by society at large. People want to believe some of the research while discrediting some as well. This creates even more conflict around the subject and keeps the myth alive.


I saw a movie about Mothman sightings in WV. The movie was all right, but I don't know if I believe in the myth. Most myths, especially modern ones that involve half man half flying creatures I find unbelievable. I think if any of these myths that cryptozoologists study were to be real, they would be the myths of things like the small harry humanoid creature that roams the upper mountain forests in Indonesia, or stories of Haitian Zombies.

I could see the hobbit people of Indonesia being a lost tribe of creatures related to humans or apes. Many of these dense jungle areas are just beginning to be explored, so I could see them being home to undiscovered species.

As for Haitian Zombies, I saw a special on TV that looked into this and concluded that people can be turned into a permanent catatonic and subservient state through the administering of nearly lethal doses of blowfish poison along with weeks of psychological and physical torture.

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