If you visit Put-in-Bay in late June or early July, you may confront Mayflies. A few people like Mayflies, but most find them bothersome and offensive. Actually, they are a sign of a healthy lake, but you’d never know it by the mess they make as they come ashore to die. Mayflies, despite their name, mainly come in June and early July. Sometimes you’ll actually see one or two as late as October.
Mayfly larvae are found in the muddy bottom of the lake, and when they hatch, they come to the surface, spread their wings, and fly off. The Mayflies search out bright white lights, white cars, and white houses. They love to swarm around streetlights and colorful neon signs.
Not equipped with much brain power, they get so close to the hot light that they fall to the street or sidewalk. Sometimes they are so thick that a snow shovel is needed to scoop them up. If you’re walking down the sidewalk, you can hear them crunching beneath your feet. You can also hear the crunching when cars drive over them.
At the peak of the Mayfly season, many people who visit Put-in-Bay are seen doing the “Mayfly Dance.” This happens spontaneously when walking under a bright street light with thousands of Mayflies swarming beneath it. The people suddenly jump up and down and wave their arms in some of the most peculiar ways. You’re in seventh heaven if you’re a people watcher, watching from the porches of some of Put-in-Bay’s beautiful homes and cottages. It’s similar to people caught in a swarm of bees, except Mayflies have no stingers to sting or mouths to bite.
If you’ve got a big white fancy yacht docked in the harbor, you’ll likely find Mayflies clinging to the sides and lounging on the decks each morning. Owners have to clean them off with a hose. They leave stains if you try to sweep Mayflies off a boat or the Put-in-Bay Ferry. They tend to smear and leave black marks that are hard to remove.
The same applies to houses, especially white ones. Again, you’ll find the pesky bugs clinging to the siding and screens on the doors and windows. These, too, must be hosed off or blown off with a leaf blower. You may hear this in the morning if you stay at one of the Put-in-Bay Hotels!
A few of the things we do know about Mayflies may come as a surprise. First, dead and rotting Mayflies have a unique stinky odor. It’s very fishy in a Lake Erie kind of way. Second, some people are actually allergic to Mayflies and get hay fever-like symptoms if they are around them too much.
Third, many species of Mayflies are found in one form or another in various parts of the world. Over 3,000 species of mayflies are known worldwide, grouped into over 400 genera in 42 families. They have multiple names, like Canadian Soldiers, shadflies, or fishflies. Fourth, Mayflies are an excellent food source. They are estimated to contain any edible insect’s most raw protein content by dry weight.
Among the creatures that enjoy a good Mayfly dinner are birds, fish, and reptiles like turtles and lizards. We don’t know about snakes. In some cultures, Mayflies are used for human consumption, but we’ve never heard of anyone eating them on Put-in-Bay. There are just too many good restaurants on the island with much better fare. Fifth, hatches in Lake Erie have been so large that their emergence has been recorded on Doppler weather radar and confused with incoming thunderstorms.
And last but not least, please don’t swat or squish the Mayflies so they may fly again!