What is a Mothman? 10 Possible Explanations

No, don’t worry. You are not the only one who hasn’t heard about the “mothman”. Apparently, mothman is the name of a cryptid i.e., an animal or creature (whatever it is) whose existence has merely been suggested but has not been discovered or proven or documented by the scientific community. Cryptids generally make appearances in folklore and mythology. Now, talks about the sighting of a mothman first started in the 1960’s. You must be wondering what does a mothman looks like. It went through my mind too when I first read about it. Apparently, a mothman is large man- sized creature whose eyes glow red. It has long moth-like wings and a very unnatural/ unusual shriek.

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It is believed that this creature was first sighted by five men on November 12, 1966 who were digging a grave in a cemetery near Clendenin, West Virginia. They stated that a large man-like creature flew over their heads. Not long after, on November 15 of the same year, two couples from Point Pleasant Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallete, claimed that they too saw a large white creature whose eyes glowed red when the car’s headlight’s fell on it. From November 15, 1966 to December 15, 1967 many other sightings of this creature were reported in West Virginia but nobody knows how accurate they were or if this creature actually exists or not. Many zoologists, folklorists and paranormal authors have given their stance on the existence of such a creature. People too have speculated about the identity of the mothman. Various theories and stories have emerged out over the years which offer a possible explanation for the identity of this creature named the “mothman”. Here is a list of some of those explanations which have been more or less accepted.

10. A large man with wings.

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Yes, that’s what the witnesses believe the mothman was. They believed that the creature that they had seen was around 7 feet tall and had huge moth-like wings. Not only this, his eyes glowed red. Doesn’t it seems to be bizarre? Who would have wondered such a creature can even exist? But if the researchers are to be believed, no evidence was found that could prove the existence of such a specimen. Imagine living in a world where such large creatures can fly around at any time. Pretty scary, isn’t it?

9. Thunderbird.


There are a few people who think that creature might have been a thunderbird. Now, you must be wondering what does a thunderbird looks like. A thunderbird resides in the legends of Native Americans and is considered to be a supernatural being containing immense power and strength.  It is believed that the flapping of a thunderbird’s wings can cause thunder and its eyes can flash lightning too.

In the Lakota language, it is named as Wakinyan which can be broken into two parts so that its meaning can be clear. “Wakhan” means “sacred” while “kiya” refers to “winged”. Many consider it to be an omen of war. It is also said at times that a thunderbird is a creator, destroyer and controller of nature. Therefore, it should not be angered at any cost.

8. Sandhill Crane.

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Yes, another indication to a bird. Although the above- mentioned bird is more a part of mythology than the real world. There were some professors who had suggested that the creature that the witnesses had claimed to see could have been a Sandhill crane. These mighty birds can be as tall as 4 ft. and as small as 2 ft. in height. Their wingspans are however, quite large as they easily measure up to 8 ft. which makes them very skilled soaring birds. Their foreheads are also adorned by red feathers. This theory may look promising but it was rejected, as a matter of fact. The reason being that the bird is not a native to the area. It actually belongs to North America and north-eastern Siberia. It had never been sighted in West Virginia before and after these incidents.

7. An indicator of doom.


As can be guessed from its description, this large and terrifying bird is also said to be the harbinger of impending disaster. It is believed that just before the collapse of the Silver Bridge on the 15th of December, 1967, the mothman was sighted multiple times. The last significant report of the sighting had been on January 11, 1967. About 46 people were killed when the bridge had collapsed. Investigations revealed that a minor fault at the time of its manufacture led to its collapse. It has also been rumoured that this bird did not only made an appearance before this particular disaster but was also seen in Chernobyl, Ukraine just before the nuclear disaster of 1986. This is considered to be the most acceptable version for the explanation of such a creature as it has never been sighted since then.

6. The curse of Chief Cornstalk.


First an omen and now, a curse. This beast seems to have it all! There are some residents of Point Pleasant who believe that this bird is directly related to the curse of Chief Cornstalk. What is that, you ask? Here’s the story:

In the late 18th century, the present day Mason County existed as the Shawnee Nation. Point Pleasant is a part of mason County, West Virginia. The United States of America had been exerting its influence westward and the Shawnee Nation was initially at war with the invaders. However, the nation’s leader Chief Cornstalk travelled to the Fort Randolph with three other members of his tribe, which included his son, to talk about peace between the two warring nations. The Fort Commander imprisoned them instead. The very next day, some unknown natives killed a soldier who had been patrolling the Fort. This enraged the commander so much that he killed all the four prisoners. As the Chief lay dying, he uttered a terrible curse that stated that he had come to this place as a friend and had been betrayed and murdered instead. He cursed the spot where he was to die and asked it to be maligned by Nature. He also cursed the inhabitants of the place. The Silver Bridge tragedy is considered to be the outcome of this curse and the mothman is then, said to be the omen that indicated it.

5. A prank?


Some people actually believe that all the episodes surrounding the mothman had been a part of a prank. It is believed that this whole charade was orchestrated by a local man who dressed himself up in some Halloween costume only to sneak around the abandoned munitions complex which is locally known as the TNT (five miles north of Point Pleasant). He supposedly jumped out in front of cars to scare young people away. This theory, as can be seen, has too many loopholes to be called credible. The description of the mothman provided by various eye witnesses cannot be justified through a Halloween costume.

4. Another Hoax.

As if a costumed guy jumping out of the darkness in front of cars was not enough, another possible hoax of a story had circulated during this time. It was believed that some construction workers had made a balloon out of a large plastic sheet and then, filled it with helium. They tied red flashlights to them so that they looked like red eyes. Since the flashlights weighed down the balloon, it couldn’t soar high in the sky but rather drifted over the treetops. And probably, people mistook it to be a new creature on the earth.

3. A Barn Owl.


While there are many people who would rather believe in the supernatural take of the story behind the identification of the mothman, there are some of those who are complete “non- believers”. They are firmly of the opinion that the creature belonged to the natural world and is not unknown. Here, the possibility of a barn owl as the mothman was established. It somewhat fits the description too. Its wingspan gives it an appearance of a large bird and its eyes reflect the colour red when flashlights are shone upon them. A barn owl doesn’t hoot but instead makes a “shree” of a sound which resembles that of the mothman.

2. Different perception.


A different approach can be taken by stating that the whole idea of a mothman is in fact, not real. It is quite possible that the eyes witnesses believed in what they had seen just like the eye witness of a UFO believes in what he had seen. That doesn’t actually make it real. Their perceptions can be claimed to be unreliable as they did not carry an evidence too.

1. Plane

When every other option had been exhausted, someone came up with a new one. It was also rumored that there had not been any creature, real or unreal, at all. This whole episode was the work of a pilot who was flying a private plane across the river continuously to frighten the locals. Absurd though it may be, it’s still better than the unknown.


Well, it is true that we, as human beings, love to romanticize even the most mundane events. Now consider what an uproar these incidents must have caused in the minds of the people. There is that hyper-sensitivity of an adrenaline rush whenever you hear about such incidents in your vicinity or when you become a part of the unknown yourself. Self-doubts and fear aside, it does occupy your mind and time and thus, reels you away from the monotony for your daily existence. Nobody knows even now what a mothman is. Does it even exist? I guess, somethings are better left alone. And in this case, unknown.

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Samridhi Sharma

A student of English and Cultural Studies at Punjab University. An ardent reader and a freelance writer.