Mayflies are probably the most misunderstood flying bug. If you’ve ever spent any time around Lake Erie, you know what I’m talking about.
Yes, they can be annoying, but they serve a purpose. Really they do! I pity these little creatures who only live one or two days after hatching. So I try to never be the cause of one’s demise.
The males snatch the female in mid-air to mate. Talk about a quickie! Let’s not!
The female then dips her belly into the water to drop a string of eggs. The larvae will remain near the lake bottom for one to two years before hatching.
They have no mouths, so they cannot bite you. Mayflies are considered the cleanest insect on the planet. Rest assured should one fly into your mouth, and you swallow, it’s harmless. Maybe a bit gross, but you will be OK.
I lived near Lake Erie four years during the 1970s, and have spent a lot of time on Put-In-Bay during hatching season, which is May, June and July.
One time at a hotel on the beach in Michigan, we were greeted in the morning with a covered car and parking lot. Guests took turns using the manager’s broom to clean off the cars. He used a shovel on the parking lot.
Since they are attracted to light, some residents and businesses cover their outside lights. It doesn’t really work that well. Just gently pick them off your clothes by their fragile tiny wings and release them. They will surely be a statistic by morning.
Back to their purpose. These little guys are ecological predictors of the health of the lake. Also, they are a good food source — consisting mostly of protein — for fish, birds, turtles and bats. The larger their numbers, the healthier the lake.
Several years ago the city of Port Clinton received a grant from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to develop a mayfly compost site at the landfill. It was the first in the United States. The combination of mayflies, bulking agents and wood chips makes excellent fertilizer for local residents’ gardens.
So the next time you see a mayfly or a swarm, keep your mouth closed, enjoy watching their gracefulness, and refrain from whacking them. Live and let live.
To learn more about mayflies and see great photos, check out MayflyNews.net.
Dianne Bonecutter Garrett is a Wilmington native and a former print and broadcast journalist.