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  • Burrowing Mayfly - (Hexagenia spp.)

    Burrowing Mayfly - (Hexagenia spp.)

    The Burrowing Mayfly in a bioindicator for the cleanliness and health of the Great Lakes.


    Picture of Burrowing Mayfly


    Staff Writer (7/14/2014): Due to their sensitivity to pollution in the early stages of life, the presence of Burrowing Mayflies has long been used as a means of judging the Great Lakes ecosystem. Before loads of pollution and sewage were allowed to pour into the Great Lakes, swarms of Burrowing Mayflies would inhabit the area creating a nuisance for residents. After pollution was allowed into the waterways and lakes, the Burrowing Mayflies all but disappeared. Their return to the region would be a sign of improved cleanliness in the waters their juveniles call home.

    Female Burrowing Mayflies lay fertilized eggs in water (lakes, streams, creeks, ponds). The larvae live underwater and are called naiads, or nymphs. Even small traces of contaminants in the water they live in will kill them. Gills along the sides of their bodies allow them to 'breathe' under water. They feed on aquatic plant matter and hide in the sediment to avoid being eaten by fish or larger naiads. They will molt several times over the course of a year or more before finally leaving the water to finish metamorphosis.

    Once the larva crawls out of the water, it molts and its first wings appear. This first rendition of maturity is called the subimago stage and is eventually followed by another molting. A second molt will generate a brighter body color. The full adult is called an imago and they are fertile, but short-lived. In fact, the lifespan at the imago level may be one day at best. They live only long enough to mate and deposit eggs.

    Burrowing Mayfly larvae are a major food source for fish and are used at live bait by fisherman. Artificial lures mimicking their body shape and color are also used by anglers to catch fish. Adult Mayflies are also a major food source for birds, insects and spiders. Because both life stages are eaten by a variety of other creatures, survival of the species depends on mass reproduction which can lead to those annoying swarms seen decades ago. Nowadays, such a sight around the Great Lakes region would be greeted with delight among ecologists and limnologists.

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    Details of the:
    Burrowing Mayfly


    Category: Mayfly
    Common name: Burrowing Mayfly
    Scientific Name: Hexagenia spp.
    Other Names: Golden Mayfly, Michigan Mayfly, Great Leadwing Drake, Green Bay Mayfly

    Taxonomy:
      Kingdom: Animalia
       Phylum: Arthropoda
        Class: Insecta
         Order: Ephemeroptera
          Family: Ephemeridae
           Genus: Hexagenia
            Species: spp.

    Size (Adult, Length): 10mm to 30mm (0.39in to 1.18in)

    Identifying Colors: yellow, brown, black, white

    Additional Descriptors: flying, large, striped, arms


    North American Reach (Though Not Limited To*): Illinois; Indiana; Michigan; Minnesota; Ohio; Pennsylvania; Wisconsin


    * Keep in mind that an insect's reach is not limited by lines on a map and therefore may appear in areas/regions/states beyond those listed above.