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Insect Highlight: Ephemeroptera - Mayflies

Updated: Jan 10

Today at Bugs Below Zero we are highlighting the Insect Order Ephemeroptera! The insects in this order are also known as Mayflies. Read below to learn more information about the biology and impact mayflies have on our aquatic ecosystems.

Written by: Hope Chappuis

What animals buzzed around the earth even before the dinosaurs? If you answered mayflies, you are correct! Mayflies are a prehistoric aquatic insect that has long inhabited the earth. These ancient insects have big eyes, short antennae, and multiple wings and tails. Life is short for many insects, but especially for mayflies as adults only live for 1-2 days. Hence their order name, Ephemeroptera, which has the same root word as the word “ephemeral” which means lasting only a short time. 

How do I identify a Mayfly?

Mayfly larvae can be identified by their external gills. These gills are located on the dorsal (upper) portion of the abdomen and the variation in number can be used to determine the species. Ephemeroptera also have prominent wing pads and “tails”, referred to as caudal filaments in the insect world, that appear in groups of three.

Where can I find Mayflies?

Mayflies are found in lotic habitats, such as streams and rivers. They are most plentiful in riffles and pools. Adult mayflies can be found surrounding these areas terrestrially. 

Quick-fire Fun Facts

  • Is this water clean? Ask a Mayfly! Ephemeroptera can be used to determine the health of aquatic habitats as they are pollution intolerant.

  • Despite their name, mayflies hatch during the spring and fall, with only a few specific species emerging in May. 

  • Lunch anyone? Mayflies are a great source of food for fish, frogs, and birds. Because mayflies are such an attractive food source for trout, they often serve as models for fly fishing lures. 

  • Adult mayflies do not have functional mouthparts or digestive systems, so they do not eat. Nymphs consume weeds, algae, and other aquatic debris.

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