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Archive for June 10th, 2010

Wings for a Day

While I was working in the garden, I noticed this mayfly perched nearby. Mayflies belong to the order Ephemeroptera, which refers to their brief time on earth spent as mayflies. For most of their lives, they live not in the air, but in water, as nymphs. Their larval stage may last a year, or maybe two years. Mayfly nymphs have rather stout bodies, maybe an inch long, with three “tails”, properly called caudal filaments. This makes them easy to tell from the similar stonefly larvae, which have only two tails. Most mayfly larvae eat plants or organic matter, but some are predatory.

There are about 600 mayfly species, comprising 21 families. Mayflies are sensitive to water pollution, so finding mayfly nymphs in a stream is generally regarded as a sign of reasonable water quality. Most mayfly species have specific habitat requirements, and because of their sensitivity to pollution, some species are endangered or have become extinct since the human neighbours moved in.

The nymphs molt, shedding their exoskeleton several times before they leave the water. Upon emerging from their watery home, they enter the first winged stage, called the subimago. They molt one last time into the fully adult stage called the imago. The imagos live just long enough to mate and for the females to lay eggs. With only vestigial mouthparts, they don’t even eat, and live just a day or two.

Imagine that. Instead of creeping slowly and steadily in a long decline that leads to the grave, like we humans do, mayflies complete their lives with one glorious, amazing burst. Freed from the bonds of the water they have called home all their lives, they suddenly find themselves soaring through the air, the sun glistening on wonderful wings, dancing, weaving….

What a way to go!

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