What do you call millions of mayflies swooping in and covering your house, boat, cars and ground? Annoying? Ridiculous? I call it a plague. When these two-inch long cousins of the dragonfly swarm in, there’s nothing to do but watch in amazement.
They covered our family lake retreat in eastern North Carolina with the speed of a Boston blizzard. Only it’s a blizzard of bugs. Within an hour, not just the siding of our red barn shaped house was encased with the critters but also the porch floor and rails, and the bushes nearby. Within minutes, our red house turned tan and the porch railing was almost pretty, adorned with living ruffles. They reminded me of synchronized swimmers in the way they lined up with their wings all facing the same direction.
Strange as it may sound to entomophobics, folks with a fear of insects, we didn’t run back inside. How could we? There was no way to get in through the front door, fully engulfed by now. We had a rough enough time sneaking out through the back screen porch to see what was happening. Moments before, we were merely trying to walk the dog when, lo and behold, we saw dozens of the alien-looking creatures with long antennae-looking tails dotting the front storm door.
By the time my niece, brother, and I closed our jaws to keep from munching a passing mayfly, the lawn and gravel drive were carpeted in a writhing and wiggling love fest in order to propagate their species. Others dangled on shrubbery like earrings. A photographer’s dream, each sight compelled us to take picture after picture.
My niece, already taking photos that could rival those in National Geographic, kept calling us over to look at one fascinating spectacle after another. We especially got a kick out of the little fellows riding around on our feet. I left the photography to her while I googled the life cycle of mayflies. Don’t judge me. Yes, I stood there with bugs on my feet while I researched said bugs. I learned that mayflies rise from the lake bottom to the surface and then into the air to mate, drop eggs back to the lake bottom, and fall breathless onto the water. There, they become a feast for the fish relishing mayfly season. That’s what’s supposed to happen but a strong wind that day must have blown them inland and they were confused. That’s just my theory. Plus, we had lights on.
I also learned that mayflies are drawn to light, which explains why they blessed us with their arrival. Houses all around us were dark, uninhabited at the time, so we won the insect jackpot. In Pennsylvania, mayflies swarm to the lighted bridges, totally covering rails and the road. The bugs have been known to pile up to six inches deep on bridges, causing numerous car and motorcycle accidents. One source claims that driving on the bugs en masse is like driving on ice requiring the slippery critters to be removed with snowplows.
I suppose our measly home invasion was not so bad after all. I should feel sorry for the mayflies as they never eat a bite of food and only live a day or two. What a stinky life. Speaking of stinky, as we squished through the carpet of bugs wearing mayfly ornaments on our ankles and shoes, we smelled a definite fishy odor. It makes sense that they smelled like seafood since they came from the bottom of a lake.
Squealing like little girls, we brushed the bugs from our hair. After taking another picture of them decorating our shoes, we stomped to get them off our ankles and feet, and made a run for the screen porch. We took off our shoes to find the bottoms covered in what looked like nutty brownie mix. So much for my new fancy flip-flops. An unfortunate casualty of the mayfly plague, they still reek of fish so I’ll only get to wear them at the beach. That is, as long as there are no hungry seagulls nearby. I’ve had enough winged creatures landing on my feet.
The morning after shone new light on the final stage of the mayflies’ life cycle. The decorated house would soon be swept and washed clean of the remains and life would be normal again. I felt a little melancholy as I backed my van out of the bug covered gravel driveway. A few dozen insects remained on my windshield. I took close-up pictures of these last survivors and drove away, only to see them blow off a few at a time. Next spring, we’re shutting off the porch lights.Lights caused thisActual size
May 6, 2017 at 12:45 am
Oh my WORD! Lisa! This is unbelievable! My skin is crawling right now. I’ve heard about Mayflies, but I had no idea. I’m going in search of my bug spray. I must be prepared!
May 6, 2017 at 12:59 am
It was truly an experience we’ll never forget.
May 6, 2017 at 2:14 am
HOLY COW!!!!! I have seen a random mayfly but NEVER EVER have I seen this. What a sight to behold. I thought lovebug season was a big deal. No way. This takes the cake!!!!!!! Wow!!!!!
May 6, 2017 at 2:24 am
Glad to be the one to show you all this excitement. It was crazy.
May 6, 2017 at 8:12 am
Wow indeed! We don’t have them here in Australia… thank goodness 😊
May 6, 2017 at 1:45 pm
We have the same thing in Minnesota along the Mississippi. It is one of the sights that the river is returning to good health after years of severe pollution – and yes, they do use snowplows to clear the bridges.
May 6, 2017 at 3:02 pm
Ooo. I forgot to mention that about the sign that it’s healthy water thanks for throwing that in. I think they’re kind of cute. And felt bad for having to walk through them to get back in the house.
May 6, 2017 at 6:19 pm
Yikes! I don’t think I would have handled it so calmly. More than fifty of anything borders on creepy. 🙂
May 6, 2017 at 6:35 pm
I I had to show my husband!!!! What state are you in? Is it because you are by the water? On the lake where I grew up we had them but I guess mom knew to keep the lights off. Who knew??!!!!!
May 6, 2017 at 7:38 pm
Lake Waccamaw in North Carolina. About 40 miles from Wilmington. Smart mom.
May 6, 2017 at 8:01 pm
We were on lake lily in keystone heights florida. I LOVE north carolina. Would love to move there one day. We vacationed at the blue ridge assembly
May 7, 2017 at 3:47 am
Nice job, and great photos.
May 7, 2017 at 4:13 am
Thanks Dan. I’m glad you liked it.
May 8, 2017 at 11:16 am
Thanks for sharing!
May 8, 2017 at 12:59 pm
Now, that’s an amazing sight. Never heard of that before.
Ain’t nature grand?
Thanks for sharing.
May 8, 2017 at 1:45 pm
It’s a neat phenomenon and short-lived, thank goodness! I’m glad you can enjoy it and not get too creeped-out. Have you ever been around when the cicadas swarm? It is rare but amazing because they are the size of walnut shells.
May 8, 2017 at 2:01 pm
I’ve seen them in big batches but not in a huge storm I’m sure that would be quite a thing to see.
May 18, 2017 at 6:11 pm
Oh my goodness! That’s insane; how cool though to have been able to witness this!
May 18, 2017 at 11:43 pm
This reminds me of a Stephen King movie…….wow!
May 19, 2017 at 2:08 am
Yep. Felt like that too.
May 19, 2017 at 4:59 pm
Amazing! Scary at first…but amazing!
May 23, 2017 at 6:28 pm
Oh this is shocking and kinda horrifying, in a good way! Laughing…..
May 26, 2017 at 12:31 pm
Wow. That was amazing! Thanks for capturing it so well!!
May 26, 2017 at 1:14 pm
Thanks so much. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about this wild adventure.
May 27, 2017 at 12:57 pm
Wow! I’ve never seen anything like this! I’d call it a plague too (of biblical proportions). You’ve captured the goings on so well. Great pictures! You’re brave to walk into that though. 😮
May 27, 2017 at 2:50 pm
Thanks so much. That pretty much describes it. Of Biblical Proportions. I felt sorry to squish them especiallly while they were let’s just say answering natures call.
May 27, 2017 at 7:24 pm
Ha, ha. How often does this happen? Why do they congregate like that in one area?
May 27, 2017 at 7:57 pm
It happens every late April or May at our lake. I don’t know how they are distributed but are definitely by large bodies of water as they are born there. I just read that New Zealand has over fifty varieties. Michigan, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and NC are blessed with them. Not sure about other locales.
May 28, 2017 at 1:29 pm
May 28, 2017 at 8:47 pm
I’ve never seen anything like that! I’m not sure I would have handled it as well as you, but it was sure neat seeing the photos.
May 28, 2017 at 8:52 pm
Thanks. It was quite the experience.
June 13, 2018 at 9:02 pm
We have similar bugs near the river in St. Charles, Illinois during the summer. I remember coming out of a building one night and the masses swarming around the street lights looked like something out of a science fiction movie. Good times!
June 18, 2018 at 3:16 pm
It wasn’t nearly as bad this season. We learned to keep lights to a minimum.