Mayfly Madness in the QCA! - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

Mayfly Madness in the QCA!

Fulton, IL / Photo: Jennifer DeSutter Fulton, IL / Photo: Jennifer DeSutter

If you've been out for an evening stroll around the river lately, you more than likely encountered more than your fair share of mayflies.

Most local species usually show up earlier in the season, as the Mayfly name implies. Perhaps calling these guys July-flies would be more appropriate.

What we're seeing now might just be a species that is later to emerge.

Whatever it is, it's one that is doing especially well this year. And not everyone is especially happy about that:

"They look very gross," Isaiah Williams, a Rock Island resident, said.

They look like something straight out of a horror movie.

A TV 6 viewer snapped a few pictures of the mayflies at Lock and Dam 13 over the weekend. In them, you can see a massive swarm of flying insects -- so many of them together, they look like smoke, blackening the sky.

"It looks like something from the ten plagues of Egypt," Williams said.

"It's really scary to see a big swarm of bugs like that," said LaDaishia Lowery, who lives in Davenport.

Looks can be deceiving, though. Mayflies - also called shadflies - are completely harmless.

They don't bite, they don't eat crops. In fact, they don't eat at all:

"The adult mayflies themselves have no mouth parts," Duane Gissel, Scott County Extension Horticulturalist, said.

"Their sole purpose in life is to emerge, mate, and then lay eggs," he explained.

And what a short life that is - at least in this adult form.

Mayflies only live a few days to a month with wings, depending on the species.

But they live a year or two before that underwater - as nymphs in rivers and creeks, feeding on algae and other insects.

"So they're beneficial insects in the streams," Gissel pointed out.

"And it's also great to see them because then we know the river is in pretty good shape," he added.

Bigger populations of mayflies indicate a healthier ecosystem.

"We see them every year, but not in numbers like we're getting now," Gissel said.

But, he says, it's hard to point to one specific reason for this mayfly boom:

"It varies from year to year, and it's just one of those things that happen."

Every year, regardless of the size of the population, it's the same routine for the mayflies. It's a short life in the air -- then lots of dead bugs on the ground.

"But the birds like them too, so they'll be down there helping you clean them up," Gissel said.

Love them or hate them, the mayflies will be gone soon enough:

"Just hang in there," Gissel laughed.

And, if you're bothered by the mayflies in the meantime, there are steps you can take to try to keep them away from you.

The mayflies are attracted to light - that's where you'll see swarms of them - so turning off your outside lights and closing your curtains to stop the mayflies from being drawn to the lights inside your home could go a long way in keeping them at a distance.

Some QCA residents might remember a big boom in caddisflies a few years ago. They're smaller than mayflies and tend to emerge earlier in the year.

This year, the local caddisfly population seemed slightly smaller than usual.

As with the mayflies, horticulturalists say it's hard to pinpoint a single reason why.

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