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Kidadl Team

AUGUST 05, 2021

Did You Know? Incredible Mayfly Facts

Do you know any mayfly facts?

Mayflies of the order Ephemeroptera, are one of those insects whose existence doesn't bother humanity much. Mayflies earn their name 'mayfly' simply because they begin hatching in the month of May and this continues for several months through the season. Depending on the species of mayfly, they come in different sizes and fascinating colors, making them attractive visually and also attractive to a lot of predators (including several species of fish who prey on these abundant little mayflies). Adult mayfly insects, throughout the years, have maintained the structure of the first existing flies, with long tails and wings that stay upright like a butterfly.

A mayfly in the adult stage has a very short life span. This is why they are attributed with the scientific name 'Ephemeroptera' derived from a Greek word which means, 'short-lived'. When it comes to the mayfly life cycle, from an egg, they hatch into mayfly nymphs, the youngest type of mayfly, that are known to live in freshwater for up to a year, after which they shed their skin to become a subimago which is a winged stage. At this stage, the mayfly subimago has not quite reached adulthood. Did you know that mayflies are the only insects that develop wings before becoming fully grown adults? During the subimago stage, they live on the shore for about two days and later shed their skin one last time to become a fully grown adult, called an imago, that lives for one or two days. This shows that during an entire life span of a mayfly, which is about two years long, they spend most of it as a nymph.

The mayflies emerge as adults at the start of spring in large numbers, attracting a lot of photographers who gather to capture this rare sight. This event is also called the 'Mayfly Hatch'. The short-lived life of these flies is often a source of inspiration for us humans, as they show us that the time given to us is meant for us to fulfill our purpose and that every moment must be cherished, there certainly is a lot we can learn from mayflies.

To learn more about other insects and animals, check out our guide to the six-eyed sand spider and the pond skater too!

Mayfly Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a mayfly?

The mayfly is an aquatic insect. They are known as shadflies or lake flies and there are over 3000 recognized species of mayfly around the world.

What class of animal does a mayfly belong to?

The mayfly is part of the Insecta class.

How many mayflies are there in the world?

Since mayflies exist in billions over a particular region and are found all over the world, a definite number is unattainable.

Where does a mayfly live?

Mayflies live around woods and near lakes.

What is a mayfly's habitat?

After they hatch from their egg, during the larva stage or the nymph stage, they live underwater in streams, lakes, and rivers. During the subimago stage, they crawl to the shore where they live until they become imagos, growing tails, and wings, after which they continue to fly around the lake.

Who do mayflies live with?

Mayflies live in swarms of their own which can contain millions of mayflies.

How long does a mayfly live?

Right after they hatch from an egg, the mayfly nymph lives for several months to several years underwater, and a fully grown adult mayfly lives for a day.

How do they reproduce?

In their imago stage, when an adult mayfly has a day or two to live, the males swarm together by flying around before sunset to mate. A female mayfly flies into the swarm and the males complete the mating process quickly before separating from the females. After mating, male mayflies die which completes the mating process. After mating, the females carry on to lay their eggs on the surface of the water, after which most of them die as well. Adult mayflies typically die soon after mating as they cannot consume any food because they lack a functional mouth. As an adult mayfly, their only purpose is to reproduce to pass on the genes.

What is their conservation status?

Depending on the species, their conservation statuses may differ. Although they are not endangered, due to the short mayfly lifespan, if our water bodies are not maintained or are encroached by human activity, their population can quickly decline. Mayfly larvae are not capable of surviving in polluted water bodies and a few North American species of mayflies are said to be extinct now. Officially, the status is Not Evaluated.

Mayfly Fun Facts

What do mayflies look like?

Depending on the stages of their growth, mayflies can look significantly different in different stages. We'll start with the nymphs. The nymphs themselves have several stages where at each stage the nymphs grow in size but most nymphs do look the same for the most part. They have a flat, elongated, and oval body. The heads of nymphs have a tough exterior with the mouth at the front. They have a pair of large eyes, three other small eyes, and two antennae.

In the next stage of the species after their life as nymphs, they become subimagos. At this stage, their body color becomes dull, they have short forelegs and they grow a pair of wings but are not adults yet. Their dull winged body color shows that they are not ready to attract any mates yet. The final stage, the adult stage, is where the mayflies become imagos. They now look like most winged insects that have existed from primitive times, with long tails and triangle-shaped fore wings standing upright. Their wings cannot fold down over their slender winged body, which also has a pair of smaller hind wings that aid them in flying. These aquatic insects have large pairs of eyes and three ocelli. They do not have a functional mouth. Their body colors are usually yellow, brown, green, and sometimes a mix of black and white, which they use to attract mates.

Mayflies (of the order Ephemeroptera) in their subimago forms molt again before becoming adults which is unique to mayflies as insects.

How freaky are they?

They may not be freaky individually, but a mayfly swarm of billions of winged mayflies has a good chance of making your skin crawl. So it's safe to say that it earns a three on the freaky scale out of five!

How do they communicate?

Adult mayflies have large eyes which help them navigate through their habitat, visually detecting other mayflies. They have no other form of interaction abilities. At the nymph stage, they are sensitive to light and tend to stay away from bright areas, but as they grow into fully grown adult mayflies, they are attracted to lights and they tend to swarm with their wings around any sources of light.

How big is a mayfly?

A fully grown mayfly, like most insects, is small in nature. They are about two to three times the size of a regular mosquito and can be between 0.25–1.1 in (0.6–2.8 cm) long.

How much does a mayfly weigh?

The weight of mayflies has not been scientifically measured, but they weigh very little, like most tiny insects.

What are their male and female names of the species?

For the mayfly, gender is not distinguished by names and is only observed visually. Male and females are sometimes distinguishable visually as males tend to have large eyes and abnormally long front legs.

What would you call a baby mayfly?

A freshly hatched mayfly in its larva form is called a nymph.

What do they eat?

Nymphs generally feed on algae or aquatic weeds. When nymphs burrow at the bottom of the lake, their respiratory gills begin to swell up, and this movement carries food through the burrow. As they proceed to the next stage of being a subimago, they no longer have the ability to eat as they do not have a mouth. They do not remain in this stage for too long as within a day they become full adults. An adult mayfly's only purpose is to live for the next day when they will get an opportunity to mate and then will die as they do not consume food.

How dangerous are they?

We don't have to worry about a mayfly bite because they don't bite and neither do they sting, even though they look like they might! They are simple flies that fly around largely minding their own business. They are not particularly dangerous to humans but a swarm could obstruct your vision which may lead to accidents.

Would they make a good pet?

A mayfly is not an ideal pet due to its short life span of just one day. You also won't be able to effectively feed them. Perhaps it is better to focus on keeping the more traditional dogs, cats, or birds as pets if you can!

Did you know...

Here are some Mayfly facts for kids that you might not know:

Mayflies are modeled as fish hooks for trout and they happen to be quite effective at helping fishermen capture freshwater trout in their habitat. They act as a boon in capturing trout. For instance, in North America, 'emerges' are a type of model that resembles the subimago mayflies.

Mayflies are very important for the ecosystem as they provide a lot of the nutrients and energy from aquatic plants and algae to all the animals, birds, and fish who consume the mayflies as food. These animals and birds also act as the mayfly's predators.

There are about 3000 species of mayflies all over the world with 700 of them living in North America.

Mayflies, belonging to the Ephemeroptera order, are the only insects that, after developing wings/legs in their subimago stages, molt further into the full adult form of a mayfly. Typically, once an insect develops wings/legs that help them fly, it doesn't molt any further and is considered to be in its full adult form.

A population of mayflies typically mature all at once, and for maybe a day or two during the spring or autumn, we can observe a huge number of mayflies swarming around mostly right after sunrise or before sunset. This indicates that the intensity of light plays a role in the conditions for mayflies to emerge and fly into the open.

A female mayfly can mate. Females are capable of mating and laying around 400 to 3,000 eggs in the single day it is alive. Once mating is done, females hover slowly above the water surface dipping their abdomen into the water, and gradually releasing a bunch of eggs.

We can often judge the amount of pollution a waterbody carries by the number of mayflies around it as mayflies can only survive in clean waters on the surface of the water. So if you ever notice that your local lake has seen a decline in mayfly activity, more often than not, it may be due to an increase in the pollution levels of the lake, as well as the role of predators. If necessary actions are taken to ensure that the pollution is reduced, you should witness the population of mayflies return back to normal, even if the number of predators remains constant.

How colorful are they?

Mayfly nymphs are typically dark brownish in color, and once they grow into a subimago and emerge out of the water, their body color becomes duller. But even at this stage, they do not develop much body color. Their most attractive stage is when they become fully grown adult mayflies when their body develops a variety of colors including yellow, brown, black, white, and green.

How long does a mayfly live?

These fascinating insects from the order Ephemeroptera can live for up to three years, including several stages from hatching to death. Their lifespan is largely depending on the species of mayfly nymphs, as these insects mostly spend time in their larvae stage as mayfly nymphs (this lasts for a few years) and they grow into subimago mayflies for just a day and live in the adult stage as fully grown adult mayflies for a day or two.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other insects including the earwig, or the puss moth.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our mayfly coloring pages.

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