Mayfly Larvae: Complete Information Guide And Interesting Facts

Deepthi Reddy
Apr 12, 2023 By Deepthi Reddy
Originally Published on Nov 12, 2021
Fact-checked by Shruti Thapa
Mayfly larvae in freshwater aquarium

It is widely believed that the common name of mayfly comes to it because one particular species (Ephemera danica) was seen along with the Mayflower in full bloom.

The mayfly species is commonly found in the spring and summer and belongs to the Ephemeroptera of the Insecta class. This species still has features of their 3,000-year-old ancestral aquatic species like long tails and wings that do not fold flat over the abdomen.

Let's have a look at physical features of the mayfly at different stages of the life cycle. The first stage, known as nymphs, has a tough outer covering on their head with compound eyes and a pair of antennae.

The abdomen of nymphs has wing pads, a few pairs of gills and legs, and three long tails or legs that help in their movement.

Nymphs mostly feed on organic matter found under rocks and other plant materials under flowing waters. The next stage is the subimago which is the sexually immature and duller stage before the final imago stage of the mayfly.

If you want to know and understand more about this species, you will definitely enjoy reading this article on the fleeting yet fascinating mayfly life cycle. After this article, have a look at these fun facts articles on dragonfly larvae and insects' larva.

What are mayfly larvae called?

Mayfly larvae, often called naiads or mayfly nymphs, play a crucial role in aquatic ecology. They are found in water habitats like lakes or streams. They mostly stay at the bottom, and the feeding process involves algae and other organic plant material there.

Nymphs are said to be very important in the water food web and get energy from small and minute algae and provide energy to other living beings like fish in the vicinity of the freshwater. Mayflies start their life underwater in streams, rivers, and ponds.

These nymphs live on the aquatic bed under rocks, where they help keep it clean as they feed on algae and plant life found underwater .

Mayfly nymphs can be called the indicator of the freshness of the water they live in. These nymphs are found in large numbers if the water is fresh in lakes, rivers, and streams.

Because nymphs are extremely sensitive to water pollution, a decrease in mayfly larvae in water can be interpreted as a decrease in the quality of the water body. This is why the conservation of freshwater bodies is important in the conservation of mayfly nymphs and mayflies.

Mayfly Larvae Stages

Did you know that mayflies are one of the insects that have the shortest adult life in their life cycle? The mayfly species is a fascinating species of aquatic insects' that has multiple stages in its life.

First, a female lays its eggs. Mayflies take a flight out of the water to take their final form during the adult stage. The life cycle of this species is a wonderful journey to follow.

When you notice a swarm of mayflies flying above and around water habitats like fast-flowing streams or lakes you can easily say that all of them are male adult mayflies that are ready to mate. Male mayflies form a swarm above the water's surface, and the female flies into it to mate.

Then the male mayfly grabs the female with its elongated front legs, and mating happens in flight.

The female mayfly then lays its eggs on the surface of the water. These eggs then fall to the bottom of the water body and stick to plants or rocks at the bottom.

Once the female lays its eggs, she is done with her life and falls onto the water's surface with wings spread without any movement.

She is then eaten by predators in water habitats like fish. The male, after mating, never returns to the water and flies off to die on the land nearby.

Mayfly eggs attach to surfaces of plants and rocks at the bottom of the stream or lake before being carried away by fast-flowing water or drowned by currents of streams, lakes, or rivers.

There are many species of mayfly, and depending on the species and water conditions, an egg may take anywhere between a few days to a few weeks to hatch into nymphs. Hatched mayfly nymphs spend their time on the bottom of the water surface, feeding on algae and other plant materials.

It is observed that in the nymph stage, mayfly nymphs shed their skin over 20 times.

Mayfly nymphs can again take their time of up to two years to emerge out of the water surface. This depends on the particular species.

When the time comes, these mayfly nymphs come to the surface of the water and emerge into their first form of the adult stage known as duns or the subimago.

The nymphal shook is left behind, which trails off behind in the flowing water, for the newly emerged dun or subimago to emerge.

During the subimago stage, mayflies wait on the surface of the water for their wings to dry before these lovely mayflies take their first flight. But sadly, the subimago is the most vulnerable stage of their adult life as they become a lovely snack to predators such as fish in their habitats.

Mayflies that survive fly off to the land where these mayflies are safe from the immediate danger of being eaten.

Once on the land, the adult mayfly leaves its drab old skin and emerges into its beautiful but final stage of adulthood with a new set of wings. Adult mayflies are known as spinners or imago at this stage, and the only purpose of their life is breeding.

Sadly, the adult mayfly or imago doesn't have a proper mouth and can not eat any food or involve in any process of feeding .

Adult mayflies completely rely on their bodies' energy reserves at this stage, which vanish quite quickly while flying.

That is the reason why winged adult mayflies start to search for mayflies for mating as soon they emerge with their wings. Did you know that these two stages of the Mayfly are fascinating because no other insect in the world has two stages of winged adulthood?

What do mayfly larvae eat?

The larval stage or the stage of nymphs may last as long as two years and is said to be the longest stage in the life cycle of a mayfly species. The species spends most of its life as nymphs underwater.

Did you know that the presence of mayfly nymphs is an important indicator of the water quality of an aquatic habitat system as these insects are very sensitive to any sort of pollution?

Mayfly nymphs or naiads are an important part of the water ecosystem as they feed on the detritus, algae, and other organic and plant material at the bottom of the water body, thus playing their role in keeping the habitat clean.

Mayfly larvae or nymphs feed on detritus, algae, other plant materials, and sometimes very small insects found in their habitat. These nymphs play a very vital part in the freshwater food web.

By feeding on algae and other organic detritus, these nymphs provide the energy they gain from organisms at the bottom of the food pyramid to organisms higher up the food pyramid like fish and other aquatic and non-aquatic vertebrates living in the vicinity of freshwater bodies like streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds.

How do you get rid of mayfly larvae?

Here we are not exactly talking about getting rid of mayfly larvae but getting rid of mayflies at large, because once these mayflies or the imago are out in their season, then yes, they are a menace.

Thanks to the pollution caused by us, we have, unfortunately, increased freshwater bodies' pollution levels at an alarming rate where the sensitive species of mayflies cannot survive.

So you see, indirectly or directly, we are getting rid of mayfly larvae without realizing we are doing so and without intending to do so.

But one thing that has to be thought about is that the reduced population of mayfly larvae in freshwater bodies is not a piece of good news to us since a reduced population of mayfly larvae in bodies of water indicates poor water quality.

Basically, mayflies hatch around the month of May and continue to do so in summer and spring. Because they hatch thousands at a time, although their lifespan is somewhere around 24-72 hours after hatching, you just cannot stand their infestation when you are outside trying to enjoy the spring or summer weather.

If you are in a mayfly-infested area, then yes, you are most likely having to deal with these mayflies.

In North America, they hatch in the vicinity of the Mississippi river habitat during the spring season. Here, they are considered a nuisance, but in Africa, especially around Lake Victoria, they are considered a rich source of protein and are important to these people's diet.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our article about mayfly larvae, then why not take a look at cockroach larvae or mayfly facts.

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Written by Deepthi Reddy

Master of Business Administration

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Deepthi ReddyMaster of Business Administration

With an MBA under her belt, Deepthi has discovered her true calling in content writing. Her writing repertoire is diverse, covering travel, movies, pet care, parenting, animals and birds, and more. Her joy of learning and creating has helped her craft well-written and engaging articles. When she isn't writing, Deepthi enjoys exploring new cultures, trying different foods, and spending quality time with her two children aged 7 and 12.

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Fact-checked by Shruti Thapa

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English

Shruti Thapa picture

Shruti ThapaBachelor of Arts specializing in English

With a passion for American, British, and children's literature, Shruti is currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree at Garden City University, Bengaluru. Her fluency in Nepali, Hindi, and Mandarin demonstrates her linguistic abilities and global perspective. In addition to her literary pursuits, she has a keen interest in non-fiction literature, aesthetics, early childhood education, and Egyptian history. Shruti's research paper 'Bringing Art Illustrations In Education And Pop Culture' showcases her proficiency in these areas and her dedication to academic excellence.

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