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Mayfly

Kabini has always sprung surprises on me. The recent visit was no exception. It was mid-November and there was a distinct nip in the air.

I reached Kabini River Lodge late in the evening just in time for dinner. After a quick wash, I headed towards the dining area. Normally this space is well lit. But to my surprise, much of the dining hall was dark. I was left wondering. Was I too early for dinner? Not really.

Initially, I thought that the lights were off to prevent the termites (alates) from getting attracted to them. However, only on closer observation did the answer become apparent – hundreds of mayflies had emerged from the water! Being attracted to light they were congregating near all the lights that were left on. The walls were dotted with mayflies; for that matter they were sitting on virtually everything. For some time now they have been growing from egg to nymph and were waiting for the opportune moment to make their maiden flight and out of water.

Adult mayfly

Mayflies are very interesting insects and have an equally interesting life-cycle. During mass emergence like the one described above, they mate, lay eggs and die. The females lay eggs on water or other substrates under water. The eggs sink down to the bottom of the water body. Eventually the eggs hatch and nymphs (also known as naiads) come out. They are aquatic and breathe through gills. The time taken for completion of the nymphal stage is very variable both within species and across species. During this time they moult several times as they grow feeding on aquatic organisms like algae besides some debris at the bottom on the water body.

When the time is right, there is mass emergence, they mate and the entire process is repeated. However, the mayflies that have emerged from water often settle down to moult one last time before they become adult mayflies. This makes mayflies unique – these are the only insects that have winged immatures.

Mayfly moult

As adults they live for a very short time. Hence the order to which they belong to is called Ephemeroptera (ephemeral – short-lived). Many survive for a day or two with some species surviving a little longer. As adults they have rudimentary mouth parts and don’t eat at all.

Next morning I went on a walk on the campus. I saw several mayflies sitting on plants, lamp posts, on the fence, and pretty much everywhere. What was striking though was the moult left behind by hundreds of mayflies. Several mayflies had got entangled in spider webs. Spiders were having a feast – a time of plenty. Perhaps insectivorous bats might have fed on them too during the night.

Mayfly entangled in the web of an Orange Orchard Spider

Mayflies are an integral part of the food chain. Being insects that spend much of their lives underwater, they are fed upon by a host of creatures – fish, frogs, birds, other insects, etc. When they do emerge, they fall prey to a host of terrestrial organisms.

Jumping Spider feeding on mayfly

Mayflies spend much of their lifespan as nymphs in fresh water. This makes them good indicators of water quality too. They generally prefer unpolluted waters. And they form a very important link in the food-chain both as aquatic nymphs and as winged adults. The world over, there are about 2500 species of mayflies with about 124 species recorded from India.

  • chandu

    what a way to start new year with such an informative post! Hoping to see more posts from you this year Karthik

  • ramana

    enjoyed reading!

  • radha

    Superb images, as always Karthik :)
    I saw a Mayfly for the first time in the Kabini JLR camp, they look very elegant, I think.. Great to know their life cycle with these images to foot.. Thanks for sharing!

  • Anjali

    Interesting and informative with lovely photographs as always..What a way to start the new year .. :) Thanks, for sharing…

  • http://adventureanytime.blogspot.com Santosh

    Thanks for the wonderful information update Karthik!
    Wish you have a wonderful year ahead :)

  • http://deponti.livejournal.com Deepa Mohan

    Wow, what photographs Karthik! Perhaps one of the reasons why it is called a “mayfly” is because it “may” live only for a few short minutes before being caught by so many predators :) )

  • http://www.natureclicks.in Saandip Nandagudi

    Lovely photographs..Very informative as always, water quality reminds me of my first sighting in Agumbe. Wish you a great year ahead :) .. TFS

  • karthik

    Deepa : I think some species emerge during the month of May…hence the name. Life out there is not easy. However, the mayflies perhaps make up for all the predation by simply reproducing in overwhelming numbers thereby ensuring that the species survives.

    Chandu, Ramana, Radha, Anjali, Thanks for the comments and the wishes.

  • http://backpakker.blogspot.com lakshmi

    Thanks karthik for this wonderful post..something new to learn this year

  • Aishwarya

    Wonderful as always, was looking forward to this post :)

  • http://wanttobeanomad.wordpress.com Poornima Kannan

    Superb Images and wonderful information …wish to see more posts this year

  • Shivani

    Very nice and Informative TFS

  • Vikram Hiresavi

    Nice one, Karthik! Need to put a Facebook ‘Share’ button on your posts :-)

  • Ravi Meghani

    Thanks for the wonderful documentation. Have a creative year!

  • Uma

    What a wonderful start to the year indeed! I saw a mayfly for the first time in Agumbe, when one sat on Vittal’s sleeve! Amazing creatures, to live out a whole life in less than the time we take to complete an NTP :)

  • Mohan

    Lovely post and great pictures. Are mayflies same as what we call eesal in Tamil. I don’t think so because eesal don’t have the long streams on their rear in which case I dont think I have seen a mayfly.

    • karthik

      Mohan : Thanks. Mayflies are not “eesal“. The winged termites (called alates) are called eesal.

  • http://kavitalihi.blogspot.com suranga/ugich konitari
    • karthik

      Good one Suranga.

  • Vittal

    Thanks Karthik for an excellent read. This one brought back memories of the trip to Agumbe where we photographed mayflies. I also remember you specifically mentioning why they belong to Ephemeroptera.

  • Ramya

    Thanks for a very informative piece with some interesting facts – only insect with winged immatures, and that their presence indicates good water quality. The moults look ethereal.

  • http://anushankarn.blogspot.com Anu

    Nice one, Karthik! lovely photos and great info! as usual, when I come here, I learn so much I didnt know before!

  • http://shivanidiwani64.blogspot.com/ shivani

    Thanks for all the education and the visual treat. Surely this confirms my belief in the Creator who takes care of everything and everyone. The most important lesson for the day for me has been that life is worth living even it is for one day or even less. :)
    btw as usual i would like to say,” tussi gr8 ho !”

  • http://www.livingintothewild.com Ashish Tirkey

    Awesome & interesting read coalesced with beautiful snaps. Never knew before that they live much of their small life at water!!