|mayfly (Order Ephemeroptera)||2010-04-24||front of house|
This is a story about love and death.
As with so many other wonders, our introduction to mayflies came courtesy David Attenborough. In “Life in the Undergrowth” he shows the vast hordes of adult mayflies that swarm together over rivers in middle Europe, frantic to find someone, just one individual to love and to make their lives meaningful, before the inexorable boot of death tramples them into the mud. In doing so, he reminded us why we care so much, and that there is simply no such thing as a boring living creature.
Which was good because, frankly, on looks alone these aren’t the most prepossessing insects on the planet.
We met our friend April 24, 2010, sitting on our outdoor table. What surprised me most was that it seemed alone. Apparently, not all species of mayflies actually swarm together in huge crowds. That raises the same question that was raised by the dobsonfly: why? The lifespan of the mayfly in the adult form is between half an hour and one day. That’s not a long time to go out and find a mate, and they don’t even have nightclubs to congregate at to improve their chances. Why not coordinate the mating behaviour to improve mating chances, and also to overrun the possible predators?
As with dobsonflies, the larval stage is aquatic, while the adult stage is so short-lived that it does not have a functional mouthparts or digestive system. Here’s a photo, which shows the characteristic triple tail:
This photo shows the hump between the wings. If my understanding is correct, this contains the flight muscles:
And here are a couple more photos.
Our encounter with our mayfly was not very long or very dramatic. When we found him, it was sitting on our outdoor table, perhaps too exhausted to fly any more. I can’t but hope that it had had a fulfilling life. We’re glad Akash, primed by the Attenborough movie, was able to see beyond the unglamorous looks and still feel excitement, for reasons he himself won’t understand for many years.