Jul
06
2009

Mayflies: Developing a sudden interest in trucks, apparently.
Mayflies: Developing a sudden interest in trucks, apparently.Courtesy adolson13
Did things just get a little… sexier in here? By “in here” I mean in my local metro area? So did things just get a little… sexier in the Twin Cities?

Oh ho, I think they just did. I took my shoes off the write this post, and that’s part of it, but that’s not where it starts. No, it starts with thousands upon thousands of young adults—in the blazing prime of their life, really—with one thing on their minds, and not much time on their hands.

Yep, the mayflies have hatched. That is, they hatched about a year ago, and have just now completed their final moults into adulthood. Now they have anywhere between a day and just half an hour to do what needs to be done. In their case, it’s sex that needs to be done. Other than vague efforts at avoiding premature death via fish mouth or windshield, adult mayflies haven’t got a lot of distractions—while immature naiad mayflies spend months paddling around at the bottoms of streams and lakes eating algae, their mouthparts are vestigial (useless) when they reach maturity, and their digestive tracks are full of air. (Exactly when this occurs is based on temperature and humidity, so all the mayflies in a particular area will become mature at the same time.) So, as a young mayfly, asking a prospective mate out for dinner would be pretty much pointless even if you had the time.

It might seem kind of crazy evolving into a creature that only lives for a few hours and can’t do anything but fly around and try to have sex. But if that’s all you have to do, you can invest all your resources into ensuring that you reproduce, and if your whole generation is doing it at more or less the same time, your chances are pretty good. Plus, time is relative, and there are probably those who’d say that a life of just flying around and having sex would be okay. Assuming you didn’t get eaten by a walleye.

I’m going to put up a boring ol’ picture of a mayfly here, just so you know what to look for when you’re trying to avoid thousands-strong airborne orgies over the next couple of days. Hopefully, though, I’ll have some pictures of actual swarming mayflies soon. (I know where to find some, but if y’all are already on top of things, don’t hesitate to post your own!)

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Here are some photos from the SMM's Collections Hall Program Manager, Kate Hintz. They were taken just down the street from the museum, near the Mississippi River.

The oblong, whitish things are big cases of eggs that never made if back to the river. (Mayflies lay their eggs on the water.)

A single mayfly
A single mayflyCourtesy Kate Hintz
A few mayflies and an egg case
A few mayflies and an egg caseCourtesy Kate Hintz
A bunch of mayflies and eggs
A bunch of mayflies and eggsCourtesy Kate Hintz
A pile of mayflies: Kate says these mayflies were still twitching and fluttering a little, but their time was up.
A pile of mayflies: Kate says these mayflies were still twitching and fluttering a little, but their time was up.Courtesy Kate Hintz

posted on Mon, 07/06/2009 - 3:44pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

We were just at Camp Du Nord in Ely and saw tons of Mayflies!

posted on Wed, 07/15/2009 - 1:20pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

our family is going to camp du nord in a couple of weeks. what other things did you see while you were there? And we're the mayflies annoying?

science museum reply...

posted on Thu, 07/16/2009 - 5:28pm

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