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Flying insects tell tales of long-distance migrations

Well-timed travel ensures food and breeding opportunities

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6:00am, April 5, 2018
hawk moth

MASS MIGRATIONS  This hawk moth (Hyles gallii) is one of millions of insects that migrate through a Swiss Alpine pass each year. Trillions of insects fly vast distances with the seasons to eat and breed. They may teach us something about how insects and other animals move around the planet. 

Every autumn, a quiet mountain pass in the Swiss Alps turns into an insect superhighway. For a couple of months, the air thickens as millions of migrating flies, moths and butterflies make their way through a narrow opening in the mountains. For Myles Menz, it’s a front-row seat to one of the greatest movements in the animal kingdom.

Menz, an ecologist at the University of Bern in Switzerland, leads an international team of scientists who descend on the pass for a few months each year. By day, they switch on radar instruments and raise webbed nets to track and capture some of the insects buzzing south. At sunset, they break out drinks and snacks and wait for nocturnal life to arrive. That’s when they lure enormous furry moths from the sky into sampling nets, snagging them like salmon from a stream. “I love it up there,” Menz says.

He loves the scenery and the science. This pass, known as the Col de Bretolet, is an iconic field site among European

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