Wednesday, July 2, 2008


When I was growing up in Michigan, we always referred to those rather elegant fork-tailed cellophane-winged bugs of early summer as “fishflies.” (Of course, the whole time I lived in Alberta, I didn’t refer to them at all.) Now that I live here in Leamington, with Lake Erie literally at the foot of my backyard, fishflies are back in my life again. Only this time, I am learning that practically everyone in town calls them “Mayflies.” It’s one of those strange quirks of English, you know, like those emails you get that say Why do we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway?

Every summer they come, wave after wave of them, up from the larval depths of the Lake, making their way ashore with or without the breeze, covering every surface (buildings, trees, cars, ball caps, T-shirts) available. And woe to anyone who leaves their porchlight on! You’ll see people picking them off each other’s clothes like grooming apes (minus the snacking part, of course). As the days wear on, you begin to see (and occasionally are forced to walk crunchily across) layers of the dead and failing. Parking lot asphalt gets stained brown in patches; smelly beige drifts accumulate in corners.

Don’t get me wrong; I love fishflies. They are my idea of a beautiful concept, as far as insects are concerned. They are lovely to look at, as if they were designed by some Japanese master calligrapher. If I’m correct about their anatomy and physiology, they have no working mouths, so for the duration of their short lives they don’t even eat – and therefore don’t bite. They emerge simply to mate and die, and along the way, at least several googol of them are eaten by other species, even though it makes no discernable dent in their numbers. Fishflies are in the food chain, but not of it. And unlike the other insect hordes that precede them by a few weeks, the non-biting midges, they make no sound. The midges, on the other hand, make a loud buzzy whine like mosquitoes wielding tiny chain saws. Equally huge clouds of them form in the evenings just above head level, and recede upwards to infinity, making a background noise that at first goes unnoticed, then gradually works its way into your awareness. What is that? Something wrong with the neighbor’s dryer? Someone down the road using a weed trimmer? Maybe a distant speedboat in trouble? No, it’s just midges. It won’t matter that you know intellectually that they are harmless; that annoying high-pitched mosquito-y song triggers a deep-seated reflex. With the fishflies, you can relax. Just get someone in the parking lot to check your back before you get in your car.

So, that is how it is in Leamington in June. And the moment we moved into July, their numbers drastically crashed. Soon you’ll look in vain (but with relief) to find a Mayfly. And yes, in case you were wondering, the June bugs come out in May.

Fishfly photo, D. Godin
Junebug photo Wikimedia Commons


The Very Best said...

Oh Deb, how to appreciate FishFlies, what great insite. Since it is now July and their numbers have decreased, as a fellow Leamingtonian, I can now finally wash off the outside of my house.

Great blog - will read often!

Deborah Godin said...

Thanks for your comment about the new blog. Ready for a little power-wash on my place, too. Oh the joys...

Sian said...

I love the part about bugs being designed by a master calligrapher...the image of tiny chainsaws is cute too but the idea of having to wash ones porch down for drifts of dead bugs...ewww.

This is a lovely blog btw. I found you through OSI and will be back again soon