Possible Explanations for the West Virginia "Mothman"

Mick West

Staff member
Popular Folklore in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, talks of a "Mothman", a tall man-like creature with wings that haunts the town. Recently some photographs rekindled interest in this old story:


The first image is interesting, but it's a little hard to imagine it as a person, the "legs" don't really look like legs. Other people like Sharon Hill of Doubtful News have suggested it's something like a bird of prey, possibly an owl, carrying away a snake. That's certainly quite plausible, but I'd liek to suggest another possibility, a beetle.

The beetle possibility requires we flip out thinking about which way the creature is flying, it also requires that the photographer has flipped his thinking, as clearly the images are portrayed as something flying from right to left.

What made me think of beetle were the legs, which immediately reminded me of the antenna of a beetle that has nearly flown into my head a few times in evening here in California, the California Root Borer, prionus californicus. The antenna are similar sized relative to the body, and are often curved in a similar manner. This photo is of one that dive-bombed me, then sat stunned on the ground for a while to let me take photos

However if it is a beetle, it's probably not this one, as the "wings" (the wing covers) are too far back on the "mothman". I do think the front end is a match, elongated a bit.

What's interesting here is the difficulty of judging scale. In the first photo we see some trees in the background, but it really could be any size. In the other photos it seems like it's closer to a tree, and almost seems similar sized to a leaf. Certainly does not seem to be man sized.

I think if I were to rank the possible explanations using Occam's Razor I'd have to put them roughly in this order:
  1. Bird carrying something in it's talons, like a snake or frog flying left
  2. Bird with tethers on it's legs flying left
  3. Beetle flying right
  4. Bird flying right with something curved in it's beak
  5. Some other natural flying creature, possibly carrying something
  6. A hoax
  7. Something new to science but natural
  8. Aliens
  9. A paranormal being
With any event where we can't figure out what it is, there's a tendency of people making the mistake of thinking that because we can't figure out which natural explanation is right, then it must be something extraordinary, or even paranormal. But really the correct approach is to rank our possible explanations. Something natural (and there are some plausible alternative) still ranks far far higher than something supernatural

Update: A new possibility is an owl with tethers. Tethers are very light and would allow the owl to fly normally with legs behind.
Last edited:


Staff member
Certainly looks like some kind of insect, but I'm not sure what.

The pictures remind me of this, which was touted as evidence that fairies exist!

Otherwise known as mayflies:

Clearly the mothman picture isn't a mayfly, but it shows that insects can look quite "human-like" in photos.

Mick West

Staff member
Looks like a Hawk Moth.

I hit "Post" before typing in my full thing. I think the antenna look more like the beetle, but I also think @Sharon Hill's suggestion of an owl carrying a snake or frog is likely - my main hesitation there is the symmetry of the antenna/snake/legs, but a frog would answer that.

Perhaps the bigger issue is matching the shape of the wings.


Staff member

The obvious question to ask is "which is the front?" The long appendages look like legs, and the way the second and third photos have been ordered makes you think that the direction of travel has them at the back. But these are still photos, so it could be either.

If the "legs" are at the front, then they could be either long antennae, as Mick suggests, or something being carried by a bird.

Incidentally, I'm fairly sure I saw some discussion of these photos several weeks ago (not on this site), but image searches only seem to find very recent postings. The "owl carrying a frog" explanation rings a bell, too. Are these new images, similar to ones I saw recently, or have they just resurfaced?

Mick West

Staff member
I'm leaning away from the "bird carrying frog/snake" idea a bit after looking at other photos. The "frog/snake" seems to be trailing behind the "bird". That position would make sense directly after it was hooked up (birds lead with their talons and then swing back", but in flight the prey would dangle beneath, not behind.


Senior Member.
The insect seems to me to be a bit implausible also. I mean how BIG would the insect have to be?


Staff member
I'm leaning away from the "bird carrying frog/snake" idea a bit after looking at other photos. The "frog/snake" seems to be trailing behind the "bird". That position would make sense directly after it was hooked up (birds lead with their talons and then swing back", but in flight the prey would dangle beneath, not behind.

That's if the bird is flying right to left. We don't know that it is. If it's flying left to right then it could have something in its beak.




Senior Member.
My gut reaction was Stag Beetle...

But the 'wings' in the suspect image seam to far back along the body and the wrong shape to be beetle wings and / or a carapace.

If we a talking insects, may be some kind of Mantid would be a better candidate...

As for birds, some fish eating raptors, such as ospreys carry their prey in their talons behind them, and ospreys are rather fond of eels...

Ospreys are fairly common in West Virginia, so my guess is Osprey with Eel supper


Senior Member.
an Owl is the original culprit blamed for Mothman sitings, but in these photos the wing position in flight doesnt seem possible. For any bird really.. wings (tips) only "go up" when they are landing.

If it is any large bird and one seriously big *** frog, the bird would have had to be considerably higher than those branches..mostly due to where he is in one pic to the next.. but the man claims
my first thought was they looked like antennae too. i think the two photos are in the wrong order and the [beetle] was flying TO tree in these pics not away.


beetles have two set of wings. and they can be set rathr far back
b4.JPG b2.JPG

ex from west virginia
http://www.insectidentification.org...n.asp?thisState=West Virginia&thisType=Beetle


New Member
Certainly looks like some kind of insect, but I'm not sure what.

The pictures remind me of this, which was touted as evidence that fairies exist!

Otherwise known as mayflies:

Clearly the mothman picture isn't a mayfly, but it shows that insects can look quite "human-like" in photos.

What interests me about all of these so called Fairy/Mothman hoaxes is the sense that nature in its own right has so many wonderful creatures already that no such nods to the mythical really needs to be undertaken. I understand that it would be nice if such entities existed but there are no less extraordinary and impressive creatures on Mother Earth already.

With regards the post, an owl with tethers makes perfect sense as does the beetle theory.


New Member
sightings of the so-called 'mothman' usually descripe 'him' as a black figure with wings and red eyes. most likely people were just spooked by birds. could be a black heron, a huge owl, a black vulture or the african southern ground hornbill (however it got to WV).


My first guess was owl with bewits. Not so much tethers but leather strips with bells on.

I took my daughters to a Birds Of Prey raptor/owl show in Spain.

They had an eagle owl with bewits which would have matched the picture quite well.

When we saw the (actually tethered) bird up close after the flying bit it had bewits with small bells on the end. Something to do with training them as best I could understand from the wobbly English.

They look like this but vary hugely in specifics.


The ends of the legs/antennae/eel/snake do seem to have spherical knobbly bits at either end which could be the bells on the end of the bewits.

That would be my best guess.

However, they are not visible in pictures 2 and 3 in the OP. Assuming they are all the same animal that could be because the owl had changed flight direction/angle and they were up behind it.
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