Skip to main content
Tatiana Staats photographed this black witch moth Sept. 21 at a friend's house near the north Siesta bridge. Photo by Tatiana Staats.
Siesta Key Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011 6 years ago

Island Beat: Rare 'witch' shows up on north end of the Key

by: Rachel Brown Hackney Managing Editor

Just in time for Halloween, my favorite wildlife watchers on the Key have reported another coup.

David and Tatiana Staats have recorded the first confirmed sighting in Sarasota County of a black witch moth, according to data collected by the Butterflies and Moths of North America Project at Montana State University (

Although they saw this rare “mariposa de la muerte” in September, they suggested I wait to release the news during the week people are preparing for the annual costume ritual that often features human witches.

It also took the Staatses a bit of time to make certain their sighting was the first local one. They knew the moth was not common in this area, but they wanted to be sure of their facts.

David Staats initially contacted me to say that Mike Quinn, an entomologist at the University of Texas in Austin, had told them that, to his knowledge, the closest sighting of a black witch in this area, prior to theirs, was Oct. 13, 2005, in Bradenton. Quinn speculated that moth had been blown west by the winds of Hurricane Katrina.

With the confirmation of their record find, Staats also offered his usual impeccable research to accompany Tatiana Staats’ photo:

“The Black Witch moth (ascalapha odorata), whose wingspan extends to seven inches, is paying a rare visit to Sarasota. Given its sinister reputation, this may be an unwelcome event.

“In Latin America, the black witch is universally regarded as a harbinger of death. In the novel ‘The Silence of the Lambs,’ Buffalo Bill placed pupae of the black witch in his victims’ throats.  (In the movie version, however, the more visually disturbing pupae of the death’s-head hawkmoth were substituted.) 

“Yet, in other places, the black witch enjoys a more favorable reputation.  Bahamians on Cat Island believe the appearance of the ‘money moth’ assures that good fortune will follow. In parts of Texas, a visit by a black witch means that the homeowner will win the lottery. 

“Overripe bananas can entice black witch moths to your home. So, the next time you’re shopping, buy a few Chiquitas and a Powerball ticket,” David concluded.

New music scene
Davidson’s Plaza regulars have watched a transformation over the past month, as Local Coffee + Tea has changed hands and names.

Jen Cortez, a former pet groomer, told me she long had had the urge to own her own coffee shop. “Long story short,” she said, “Michael was ready to sell, and I was ready to buy.”

“Michael” is Michael Duranko, who opened Local Coffee + Tea Feb. 15, 2007.

“The timing worked out great,” Duranko said of the sale. He had decided to concentrate on catering and his shop at Selby Gardens — as well as his continuing creation of local teas — so he and Cortez worked out the details, and she formally became the new owner of the Village business Sept. 19.

He bought the shop in Selby Gardens about a month after he opened Local Coffee + Tea, he said. As the Gardens’ financial well-being has improved over the past year, he said, his business there has grown considerably.

The new name of the shop in Davidson’s Plaza is The Local Bean, and it not only offers specialty coffees and Duranko’s teas, it also has become a music venue. Cortez’s focus is on original musicians, she said — jazz, blues and acoustic guitar. Cortez’s fiancé, Chris Otto, is a musician who has been working on the Key for some time, she said, so the musical element of the business is their joint venture.

The Local Bean is open until 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday for performances. “It’s your alternative to the bar scene,” Cortez said.

Karaoke also will be featured soon on Friday evenings.

Details about upcoming performances are available on the website, The website also points out that although The Local Bean does not sell alcohol, those interested in purchasing beer and wine to enjoy while they listen to the music can just stop in next door at Siesta Tropical Wines.

Fall cleaning
Skier’s Island, one of the spoil islands in the Intracoastal Waterway just south of the north Siesta Bridge, is sporting a much cleaner look, thanks to a group of local volunteers.

I received an email Oct. 15 from Larry Stults, a Sarasota Bay Watch board member, who wrote that his organization had joined forces with 25 Riverview High School National Honor Society members and teacher advisers to remove trash and other debris that had accumulated on the island. The city of Sarasota provided a dumpster for them on Bay Island Park to dispose of the materials.

“This was a tremendous event,” Stults wrote. “Although neighboring Edwards Island is regularly cleaned by local volunteers and by eco-tour groups visiting the island, Skier’s Island has not received the same attention, probably because the rocky shore makes boat access difficult. So Skier’s Island for years has accumulated trash and floating debris, including tractor, car and truck tires and construction materials, as well as bottles, cans and buckets of all shapes and sizes.”

Related Stories