Overview

Brief Summary

Mayflies are an ancient lineage of winged insects.  The scientific name, Ephemeroptera (εφήμερος = for a day, πτερον = wing), refers to the short lifespan of adults in this group. Once they have completed their final molt, mayflies live only long enough to mate and reproduce, from a few hours in some species to a few days in others. Immature mayflies, called nymphs or naiads, live from a few weeks to a year or two under water in ponds and streams.  Mayflies are unique among living insect orders in having a winged, immature stage, the subimago, which emerges from the water and then molts again after a brief period into the final reproductive adult or imago.  Since adult mayflies live for such a short time, the emergence of males and females must be closely synchronized which can lead to huge swarms of freshly emerged imagos in some areas.

Mayfly nymphs are important members of aquatic food webs.  Most feed on algae and detritus, although a few species are predaceous.  Many fishes and other freshwater animals depend on mayfly nymphs as a major food source.  Since mayflies are also very sensitive to changes in water chemistry, they are often used as indicators of water quality.

  • Borror, D. J., C. A. Triplehorn, and N. F. Johnson. 1989. An Introduction to the Study of Insects. Sixth Edition. Saunders College Publishing, Philadelphia.
  • Brittain, J. E. and M. Sartori. 2009. Ephemeroptera (Mayflies). Pages 328-334 in Encyclopedia of Insects, V. H. Resh and R. T. Cardé, eds. Academic Press, New York.
  • Dodds, W. K. and M. R. Whiles. 2010. Freshwater Ecology: Concepts and Environmental Applications of Limnology. Academic Press, New York.
  • Grimaldi, D. and M. S. Engel. 2005. Evolution of Insects. Cambridge University Press, New York.
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In the Netherlands, there are at least 59 species of mayflies. The mayfly lives in fresh water as larvae (nymph). In the spring, it crawls out of the water and together they form large swarms of millions of flies. Because mayflies often only live from a few hours to a maximum of a couple of weeks, they have no mouth. The only thing that an adult mayfly is concerned about is reproducing.
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Mayflies Overview

Mayflies are aquatic insects that spend most of their lives in or around lakes or streams. Mayflies are unique because they are “the only insects where a winged form undergoes molting” (Wikipedia, 2013).  They have three stages of development.  The naiads (or nymphs) emerge from their eggs and find algae to eat.  The naiads have gills on their abdomen.  They represent incomplete metamorphosis.  Within this stage they molt a few times over the course of a few months to a year.  Their last molt brings them into the next stage called the subimago.  The subimago is characterized by the addition of wings.  The subimago molts one more time to the fully-fledged adult form called the imago.   The abdomen of the imago is separated into ten segments. The imago are only concerned with reproduction. They do not eat during this stage.  They usually live for a day or two.  The mayflies will swarm over water in order to find mates.   Oviposition occurs from a few minutes to a few hours after mating.  Females lay their eggs on the surface of the water and the eggs sink to the bottom.

  • Borror, Donald, Charles Triplehorn, and Norman Johnson. An Introduction to the Study of Insects. 6th ed. Saunders College Publishing, 1989. 175-179. Print.
  • Capinera, John. "Mayflies (Ephemeroptera)." Encyclopedia of Entomology. 4. 2008.
  • "Mayfly." Wikipedia. 2013. .
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Distribution

Ephemeroptera Distribution

Mayflies have 41 families with about 2, 500 species around the world.  Twenty-three families and 631 species are in North America.

  • Capinera, John. "Fleas (Siphonaptera)." Encyclopedia of Entomology. 4. 2008.
  • "Mayfly." Wikipedia. 2013. .
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Ecology

Associations

Animal / carrion / dead animal feeder
Chytriomyces aureus feeds on dead exxuvia of Ephemeroptera

In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Crossocerus walkeri stocks nest with Ephemeroptera

Animal / parasite / endoparasite
cyst of Dolichosaccus rastellus endoparasitises nymph of Ephemeroptera

Animal / parasite / endoparasite
cyst of Opisthioglyphe ranae endoparasitises nymph of Ephemeroptera

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Known predators

Ephemeroptera (other ephemeropteran nymphs) is prey of:
roach
Salvelinus fontinalis
Gammarus pulex
Perla carlukiana
Polycentropus flavomaculatus
Salmo salar

Based on studies in:
England, River Cam (River)
Canada: Ontario (River)
Wales, Dee River (River)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • R. M. Badcock, 1949. Studies in stream life in tributaries of the Welsh Dee. J. Anim. Ecol. 18:193-208, from pp. 202-206 and Price, P. W., 1984, Insect Ecology, 2nd ed., New York: John Wiley, p. 23
  • W. E. Ricker, 1934. An ecological classification of certain Ontario streams. Univ. Toronto Studies, Biol. Serv. 37, Publ. Ontario Fish. Res. Lab. 49:7-114, from pp. 105-106.
  • P. H. T. Hartley, Food and feeding relationships in a community of fresh-water fishes, J. Anim. Ecol. 17(1):1-14, from p. 12 (1948).
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Known prey organisms

Ephemeroptera (other ephemeropteran nymphs) preys on:
plant fragments
Bacillariophyceae
Coscinodiscus
Synedra
plant tissue
detritus

Based on studies in:
England, River Cam (River)
Wales, Dee River (River)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • R. M. Badcock, 1949. Studies in stream life in tributaries of the Welsh Dee. J. Anim. Ecol. 18:193-208, from pp. 202-206 and Price, P. W., 1984, Insect Ecology, 2nd ed., New York: John Wiley, p. 23
  • P. H. T. Hartley, Food and feeding relationships in a community of fresh-water fishes, J. Anim. Ecol. 17(1):1-14, from p. 12 (1948).
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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Cyclical emergence optimizes reproduction: mayfly
 

Swarms of mayflies maximize reproductive chances by emerging according to lunar patterns.

       
  "In the mayfly (Povilla adusta), a distinct lunar-based pattern of adult emergence and swarming has been documented. Dr. R. Hartland-Rowe's studies of 22 Ugandan swarms observed between March 1953 and April 1955 at Kaazi, Jinja, and Lake Albert revealed that these swarms appeared within five days of the full moon, with most of them occuring on the second night after full moon. On three separate occasions, swarms were recorded simultaneously at locations roughly 120 miles (75 km) apart. Adult mayflies live only for a few hours, so the purpose of this swarming synchronicity is presumably to bring the two sexes together in order to maximize mating prospects before they die." (Shuker 2001:95)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Shuker, KPN. 2001. The Hidden Powers of Animals: Uncovering the Secrets of Nature. London: Marshall Editions Ltd. 240 p.
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Functional adaptation

Shield and spoilers decrease lift in water: mayfly
 

Body of Ecdyonurus (mayfly) larvae decreases lift in flowing water by having a lowered head shield position and using its lower leg segments (femora) as spoilers.

     
  "Not only does flow separate above a flattened animal, but it is also much more complex than was first thought. Flow separation reduces lift, but at a cost of increased drag which, however, is a price that may well be worth paying to stay attached. For the heptageniid larvae, certain features of its body design may in fact lead to negative lift in flowing water. This is accomplished by lowering its head shield and by using its femora as spoilers (Weissenberger et at. 1991) (Fig. 5.3)." (Giller and Malmqvist 1998:112)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Giller, P. S.; Malmqvist, B. 1998. The Biology of Streams and Rivers. Oxford University Press, USA.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records:24062
Specimens with Sequences:19083
Specimens with Barcodes:17216
Species:1342
Species With Barcodes:1127
Public Records:14908
Public Species:592
Public BINs:1371
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Barcode data

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