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Mayfly (Various spp.)


Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Mayfly.




Mayflies are special and unique in the insect world, and the adult's fleeting life only adds to their charm.



 Updated: 5/7/2020; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org


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Mayflies are divided into multiple families and are varied in color and pattern. They are the only insect known that molts while having wings; other insects molt into a winged form, their final life stage. Mayfly larvae are called naiads or nymphs, and they actually spend their lives underwater eating algae, organic matter, and debris found in their aquatic habitat. They look more like a tiny crustacean at this point. They have two, or possibly three 'tails' depending on the species, and gills allow them to breathe underwater. A year or more can be spent in this life stage, and molting occurs multiple times as the naiad grows in size. When it has matured, it molts into a winged pre-adult stage, and it is referred to as a subimago. The wings are a bit cloudy or smoky at this point, not fully clear, and the insect looks like a drab version of an adult. Those who fish call subimagos ‘duns’. Subimagoes leave the water assuming they avoid fish and avian predators. After this phase, the winged subimago molts again, and becomes a full-fledged adult called an imago, or a ‘spinner’ to anglers. Imagoes have very short life spans and do not eat. Males and females swarm in an aerial mating scene. Females lay fertilized eggs on the water’s surface below, or even under the water by crawling down into it to deposit eggs. Once this important task is complete, they die, falling into the water where they float on the surface. These dead mayflies become an easy buffet for hungry fish below. Trout fishermen observe this whole process in order to choose a lure that looks most like the mayflies present, and to time when to drop the bait into the water so it can be mistaken for a dead spinner. The hope is a great fish catch.

Mayfly naiads are great pollution police. They are very sensitive to chemical pollution and can only thrive in pristine water conditions. Areas where mayflies are present reflect clean water. Creeks, streams, and rivers that see annual swarms are consistently free of toxic chemicals, so such a sight is a good thing for the ecosystem. Swarms can be huge in such areas, and may be considered a nuisance to people that use the habitat for recreation, but their presence is brief so it is easily tolerated, especially since mayflies are a natural stamp of cleanliness in such places.
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General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Harmless insect icon


Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Ephemeroptera
        Family: Baetidae, Ephemeridae, and others [ View More ]
          Genus: Various [ View More ]
            Species: spp.
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Descriptors
Scientific Name: Various spp.
Other Name(s): Dun; Spinner
Category: Mayfly
Size (Adult; Length): 1mm to 30mm (0.04in to 1.17in)
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: yellow; brown; white; green; black
Descriptors: long wings; curved body; short life; flying; swarm; harmless; pollution indicator; naiad; imago; subimago; water
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Relative Size Comparison
Lo: 1mm | Hi: 30mm
Territorial Reach (A-to-Z)
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming
Canadian National Flag Graphic
Alberta
British Columbia
Manitoba
New Brunswick
Newfoundland and Labrador
Nova Scotia
Ontario
Prince Edward Island
Quebec
Saskatchewan
Mexican National Flag Graphic
Mexico
Note: An insect's reach is not limited by lines drawn on a map and therefore species may appear in areas, regions and/or states beyond those listed above as they are driven by environmental factors (such as climate change), available food supplies and mating patterns.
Territorial Map
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
Alaska  
Hawaii  
Prince Edward Is.  
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State of South Carolina graphic
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State of Tennessee graphic
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State of Utah graphic
State of Virginia graphic
State of Washington graphic
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Canadian territory of New Brunswick graphic
Canadian territory of Newfoundland and Labrador graphic
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Canadian territory of Quebec graphic
Canadian territory of Saskatchewan graphic
Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic