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11 Animals Associated With Death

Death, which occurs in all organisms when they cease carrying out the processes that keep them alive, is a taboo subject because it affects everyone deeply. This is why certain animals are commonly used in art to represent death, especially in ancient cultures. In this article, we’ll talk about some of them and how they came to be associated to death.

There are many reasons why some animals are often linked to death, but most of them have to do with their nature. Some are nocturnal, like owls and bats, and are often seen at night. Others, like vultures and crows, are often seen around dead bodies.

11 Animals associated with death

1. Black cat

Black cat lying on the ground
Black cat lying on the ground | image by Eran Finkle via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Felis silvestris catus  

Even in the ancient past, people have always associated black cats with death. These animals have become popular symbols for Halloween despite the fact that the only thing that differentiates them from other cats is their black fur. These creatures are also connected with witchcraft, superstition, and unlucky omens.

This belief is different in every culture, but in most of Europe, a black cat crossing your path was thought to be a sign that you would die soon. However, these dark-colored animals represent health and prosperity in cultures such as the Celtic nations and Japanese folklore.

2. Crows

American crow on plants
American crow on plants | image by Colin Durfee via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Corvus brachyrhynchos

Crows are a type of bird that’s known for their black feathers, heavy and straight beaks, and the fact that they’re always associated with death. Most of the time, this has been because of how the animal looks and acts. Crows are completely black birds that feed on carrion or the carcasses of other animals that have died.

This is why people in the past thought that if crows circled a roof three times, it meant that the person inside would die soon. They’re also considered cursed animals and a bearer of bad omens in Muslim culture. But crows are smart animals, and some cultures have been able to see that. In India, for example, crows are a symbol of wisdom.

3. Moths

Atlas moth on plants
Atlas moth on plants

Scientific Name: Attacus atlas

Moths are insects that can have a wide variety of appearances and colors. However, most moths have an appearance that’s very similar to that of butterflies, except that they’re much stockier and have drab-colored wings. Additionally, most are nocturnal and prey on natural fibers like velvet, silk, wool, fur, and leather.

These insects have been linked to death for a long time, especially in Celtic mythology, where they’re thought to be able to move between the natural world and the supernatural world. They also believed that if a white moth was seen inside the house, it was a sign that someone would pass away soon.

4. Owls

Great horned owl
Great horned owl | Image by Mark Edwards from Pixabay

Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus

The large, round eyes and feathery faces of owls make them one of the world’s most easily recognizable birds. These incredible birds can successfully hunt at night, thanks to their exceptional hearing. These animals also tend to be associated with death in many ancient cultures.

This is because they’re nocturnal and make hooting sounds that everyone can hear. People in ancient Rome believed that the hooting of an owl meant that someone was going to die because an owl was responsible for predicting the deaths of multiple Roman emperors, such as Julius Caesar.

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5. Snakes

King cobra striking position
King cobra striking position | image credit: Max Jones @thekingcobrareport

Scientific Name: Ophiophagus hannah

Snakes are elongated, legless reptiles that are found throughout the world. Some species are venomous and can kill other animals and humans with a bite, and they come in a wide range of sizes and colors.

Since they’re among the most common predators for a variety of animals and their venom is capable of causing death in humans, they’re commonly related to death. In Christianity, they’re a sign of destruction, death, and deceit because of the story about how Satan tempted Eve using the snake.

6. Butterflies

Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly | Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Scientific Name: Danaus plexippus

Due to their ability to metamorphose from caterpillars into gorgeous butterflies, these creatures are commonly used to represent change and development. However, despite their stunning appearance, butterflies are frequently interpreted to represent death.

Some cultures, including the Philippines, China, and the United States, view these insects as omens of death and misfortune due to the similarities between their metamorphosis and the transition that occurs when a person passes away and turns into a spirit.

7. Swans

Black swan swimming in the lake
Black swan swimming in the lake | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Cygnus atratus

A swan is a water bird with an elongated neck and legs and webbed feet that help it swim. Depending on the species, the bird’s plumage is either white, black, or brown. They commonly live in lakes, rivers, and coastal areas of Australia, Asia, Europe, and North America.

In Greek mythology, swans are often associated with death because they’re thought to be sacred to Apollo, the god of music. They thought that this creature sang beautifully and sweetly when people died.

8. Vultures

Black vulture on a tree trunk
Black vulture on a tree trunk | image by Bernard DUPONT via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Coragyps atratus

Vultures are large birds that inhabit open areas and are typically perched on cliffs or in tall trees. These birds are widely dispersed across the globe, with the exception of Australia and Antarctica.

In order to survive, they have evolved hooked beaks that they use to scavenge and feast on dead animals they come across. Some cultures, including the Native American and Tibetan ones, see the vulture as a symbol of death due to the fact that it feeds on dead animals and frequently circles around them.

9. Bats

Little Brown Bat
Little Brown Bat | image by NABat via Flickr

Scientific Name: Myotis lucifugus

Bats are nocturnal mammals, meaning they’re active at night and sleep during the day. They also make their homes in dark environments, such as caves, where they rely on echolocation to guide them through the darkness.

Because of their common association with vampires and other creatures of the night in Western culture, members of this species are frequently linked with the concept of death. They’re also associated with the underworld in Greek mythology and are known as the ‘death bat’ of the underworld in Mayan mythology.

10. Ravens

Common raven perched on a post
Common raven perched on a post | image by xulescu_g via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Corvus corax

Ravens are a species of black bird that typically resides in wooded areas. In contrast to crows, which are social birds, these birds prefer to spend their time alone and are easily recognizable by the distinctive black feathers that cover their bodies. These animals are opportunistic eaters that’ll consume almost anything they come across, including small mammals, birds, berries, eggs, and even dead animals.

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In Swedish folklore, this animal was thought to be the ghost of a person who had been killed but not given a Christian burial. In some cultures, it was also thought to bring bad news, usually about a hero’s death.

11. Worms

Common earthworm on dried leaves
Common earthworm on dried leaves | image by Donald Hobern via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Lumbricus terrestris

Worms are a type of invertebrate with no eyes, ears, teeth, or lungs. They live in the soil and can be found almost anywhere, but the ground is where they’re most often found. Even though this creature is missing some body parts, it’s known to have five hearts and the ability to regenerate itself from the tail end.

These animals are used to symbolize a wide variety of creatures in world mythology, from snakes and dragons to serpents and worms, and are thus often associated with both life and death.

Louise Robles

About Louise Robles

Louise writes about a wide variety of topics including wildlife, animals, and nature. She's developed a growing interest in animal biology and categorization due to her fascination with how they interact with one another and with their surroundings.