If you visit Put-in-Bay in the late June or early July, you may confront Mayflies. There are a few people who like Mayflies, but most people 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, in spite of 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, come to the surface, then spread their wings and fly off. The Mayflies search out bright white lights, white cars, and white houses. They love to swarm around street lights and bright neon signs.
Not equipped with a lot of 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, a lot of people who visit Put-in-Bay are seen doing the “Mayfly Dance.” This happens spontaneously when walking under a bright street light that has thousands of Mayflies swarming beneath it. The people suddenly start to jump up and down and wave their arms in some of the most peculiar ways. If you’re a people watcher, watching from the porches of some of Put-in-Bay’s beautiful homes and cottages, you’re in seventh heaven. 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 more than likely find Mayflies clinging to the sides and lounging on the decks each morning. Owners have to clean them off with a hose. If you try to sweep Mayflies off a boat or the Put-in-Bay Ferry, they leave stains. They tend to smear and leave black marks that are hard to get off.
The same applies to houses, especially white ones. Again, you’ll find the pesky bugs clinging to siding and screens on the doors and windows. These, too, have to be hosed off or blown off with a leaf blower. If you are staying at one of the Put-in-Bay Hotels, you may hear this in the morning!
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, there are many species of Mayflies, and they are found in one form or another in various parts of the world. Over 3,000 species of mayfly are known worldwide, grouped into over 400 genera in 42 families. They have various names like Canadian Soldiers, shadflies or fishflies. Fourth, Mayflies are a great food source. They are estimated to contain the most raw protein content of any edible insect 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, 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!