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Taking flight

Taking flight Taking flight

Life cycle continues as luna moths take to the skies

One week.

For one week each year, luna moths grace the skies of central Wisconsin.

During that week their mission is to find a mate, reproduce and lay their eggs on birch and walnut trees. Along the way, they fill area residents like Hildegard Kuse with wonder and awe at nature’s mysterious ways.

Hildegard Kuse, along with her late sister Loretta who died earlier this year, have raised Luna moths for many years at the Kuse Farm Museum and Nature Preserve, located just outside the city of Medford.

As with any cycle it is hard to pick where it starts and where it ends.

Each summer, as the moth caterpillars hatch from their eggs, Hildegard cares for them ensuring the very hungry caterpillars have ample amounts of fresh birch leaves to eat.

While a moth may lay as many as 200 eggs, Hildegard explains they will lay them over several different trees, reducing the impact on the trees and ensuring the caterpillars have a steady food supply.

The caterpillars eat for about three to four weeks before they construct a cocoon of leaves. Inside the cocoon, the caterpillars become pupa. In colder climates such as Wisconsin, the pupa will remain in their cocoons throughout the winter. In the spring, the adult moths emerge from the cocoons, a process called eclosion.

“You can hear them across the room,” Hildegard said, explaining that since the adult moths do not have mouths, they use a portion of their wings to saw their way out of the cocoon.

Once free of their cocoons, the moths find a place to perch as their wings dry. Come evening they take to the skies with the males following a scent put off by the females. Each year they release many of the moths to find mates in the wild. Hildegard has special mating cages where they keep a few of the female moths which draw in males to mate.

The resulting eggs are collected and the cycle begins once more.