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Mayfly (Various spp.)


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



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Image Credit: Alex -icycatelf- Bowen
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Image Credit: Diane T.
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Mayflies are special and unique in the insect world, and the adult's fleeting life only adds to their charm.



Updated: 05/07/2020; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
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.




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
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          Genus: Various
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            Species: spp.
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Various spp.
Other Name(s): Dun; Spinner
Category: Mayfly
Size (Adult; Length): 1mm to 30mm (0.03" to 1.18")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: yellow; brown; white; green; black
Descriptors: long wings; curved body; short life; flying; swarm; harmless; pollution indicator; naiad; imago; subimago; water
Relative Size Comparison
Typical Range Between 1mm and 30mm
Lo: 1mm
Md: 15.5mm
Hi: 30mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
State of Alabama graphic
State of Arizona graphic
State of Arkansas graphic
State of California graphic
State of Colorado graphic
State of Delware graphic
State of Florida graphic
State of Georgia graphic
State of Idaho graphic
State of Illinois graphic
State of Indiana graphic
State of Iowa graphic
State of Kansas graphic
State of Kentucky graphic
State of Louisiana graphic
State of Maine graphic
State of Maryland graphic
State of Michigan graphic
State of Minnesota graphic
State of Mississippi graphic
State of Missouri graphic
State of Montana graphic
State of Nebraska graphic
State of Nevada graphic
State of New England graphic
State of New Jersey graphic
State of New Mexico graphic
State of New York graphic
State of North Carolina graphic
State of North Dakota graphic
State of Ohio graphic
State of Oklahoma graphic
State of Oregon graphic
State of Pennsylvania graphic
State of South Carolina graphic
State of South Dakota graphic
State of Tennessee graphic
State of Texas graphic
State of Utah graphic
State of Virginia graphic
State of Washington graphic
State of West Virginia graphic
State of Wisconsin graphic
State of Wyoming graphic
Canadian territory of Alberta graphic
Canadian territory of British Columbia graphic
Canadian territory of Manitoba graphic
Canadian territory of New Brunswick graphic
Canadian territory of Newfoundland and Labrador graphic
Canadian territory of Ontario graphic
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
Alaska  
Hawaii  
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Mayfly may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Mayfly. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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