Why These 15 Animals Are Associated With Death

Updated

Across many cultures and periods, certain animals, such as cardinals, worms, bats, owls, and butterflies, have been associated with death. Some of these animals have historically "predicted" death. Other animals bring peace. You may have heard that a visit from a cardinal means that a deceased loved one now lives at peace.

Learn more about some animals associated with death and some possible reasons they have this connection. 

1. Cardinals

As we previously mentioned, cardinals often act as reminders of those we have lost. In fact, some think that a visit from a cardinal means that a deceased loved one is visiting. 

It’s not clear why cardinals connect to deceased loved ones. Some believe that the red color of the bird has to do with the blood of Christ. Many Christians think that being visited by a red-colored bird means that their loved one now lives with their savior in heaven.

Regardless of the exact symbolism and origin, cardinals usually have positive connotations when associated with death. You can see them on many sympathy cards and gifts, and the beautiful red birds give a feeling of joy and peace to many.

2. Crows

While cardinals have positive connotations across cultures, the crow is seen as both positive or negative, depending on your background.

Native Americans, Celtic, and Chinese traditions typically view seeing a crow as a positive sign of good fortune. However, the crow in American culture is often associated with Halloween. This may have originated in the Welsh belief that a crow flying above one’s house predicts death. 

Whether you view crows positively or negatively, crows express innate intelligence and even have crow funerals when a member of their murder dies. 

3. Vultures

Scavenger vultures mean death in most cultures. In fact, you may see this depiction in movies when a character finds himself in dire straits and a vulture ominously flies overhead. 

4. Worms

Not to be gross, but worms play a big role in the decomposition process. 

5. Snakes

One doesn’t have to read too far in the Bible to uncover the story of the snake who deceived Eve. This action started a chain of events that caused the downfall of man.

According to the Bible, snakes were punished for their deceitful nature. Genesis 3:14 says, “So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, 'Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.'”

For this reason, snakes, unfortunately, get depicted as evil creatures. Instead of being life-affirming, they represent death.

6. Bats

No other animal is so closely associated with Halloween than the bat. Since Halloween is a holiday closely connected with death and the afterlife, one may also easily attach bats to death.

Bram Stoker’s novel from 1897 probably put the nail in the coffin for drawing a connection between bats and death. The novel’s villain, Dracula, can shapeshift into a bat and he craved the blood of humans.

7. Hyenas

Throughout the folklore of many different cultures, the hyena represents an evil creature thought to rob graves, steal children and livestock, and influence spirits. In some cultures, the sight of a hyena foretells death. 

Like vultures, hyenas eat carrion — a good reason to associate them with death.

8. Owls

You may also associate owls with Halloween. Many cultures associate owls as prophets of death in many cultures. Some say that hearing the call of an owl means that a grave will soon need digging. 

Why do owls have this negative association? Maybe any bird that is alert at night must be up to no good. 

Regardless of the origin, the negative association of owls with death is old. Virgil, who wrote "The Aeneid," portrayed the owl as an animal associated with death, and he wrote during the year 30 B.C.

9. Black cats

Black cats have been associated with death since the Middle Ages. Not all cultures share this negative view, as the Ancient Egyptians revered cats of all colors.

Groucho Marx was famous for saying, “A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.” (Maybe Marx was a cat lover.)

10. Butterflies

Most of the animals on this list have negative associations with death but the butterfly may offer a beloved symbol of someone who transformed and entered the next world. Butterflies serve as a wonderful reminder of deceased loved ones and some view them as a symbol of rebirth in the afterlife. 

The symbolism becomes somewhat complicated, as different-colored butterflies supposedly have differing meanings. For example, seeing a blue butterfly may signify good luck. Whether you believe that the visiting butterfly has a message from your loved one or signifies just a friendly reminder of life after death, that's up to you.

11. Moths

Conversely, moths often associate negatively with death. Moths, like bats and owls, may receive an unfair reputation based on when they prefer to be active.

Like butterflies, moths come in a wide variety of colors and sizes. Don't forget to do a Google search for the death’s head hawkmoth's skull-like markings on its body.

12. Ravens

It comes as no surprise that the raven, like the crow, gets associated with death because of its color and diet. In Swedish folk stories, ravens are the ghosts of murdered people. In Germany, ravens are damned souls.

One of America’s favorite authors, Edgar Allan Poe, used the raven to tell the story of a heartsick young man mourning the loss of a loved one named Lenore. "The Raven" has been a part of the American literary canon for decades and is part of our cultural literacy. 

13. Jackals

On several continents, jackals live outside of established settlements. Since the dead were often buried outside of town, people feared that the jackals would disturb their loved ones’ graves. Perhaps this is one reason jackals have become associated with death for some cultures. 

14. Spiders

Even though spiders are a necessary and beneficial part of the food chain, their poisonous natures make them often associated with death. Also, their ability to hide inside your boots or crawl in your ear as you sleep at night gives people the heebie-jeebies. 

15. Dragonflies

Like the visit of both cardinals and butterflies, some connect being visited by a dragonfly with the visit of a spiritual guest. The Japanese view a visit from a dragonfly as proof that their deceased loved ones were in attendance during some Buddhist ceremonies.

Interestingly, dragonflies are viewed as nefarious creatures in Romania. The translation of their word for a dragonfly means “devil’s horse.”

Use Animals for Comfort

This list aims to provide you with a list of animals associated with death and a possible origin of those connections. Now that you have your list consider how you will use this information to comfort someone who has lost a loved one.

Some people give sympathy gifts to those who are in mourning. You may want not want to send the traditional flowers, plants, or other memorial contributions. You may want to give a gift that depicts a cardinal, butterfly, or dragonfly instead.

These animals have become powerful symbols of comfort for many. Gift ideas include wind chimes, stepping stones, Christmas ornaments, or figurines.

You may want to remember these animals when choosing headstones, urns, or caskets. Or you may want a constant daily reminder of your deceased loved one and may get a tattoo of a butterfly in memory of the person you lost. 

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