Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How May Flies...For a Mayfly

When you live for just hours, you'd better make that time count. And that's exactly what adult mayflies do. Hatching from gilled water nymphs, they do nothing but fly, mate and die.

I've seen millions of these elegant sprites in my lifetime, from one small soul landing on my lapel, to blankets of them clinging to the leeward sides of cabins, to corpses piled so deep on a bridge that it took snowplows to clear them away.

But, you know, there's always a way to see even the most familiar thing in a fresh, new light. 

Recalling one of my favorite tricks for spotting small wonders, I decided to ignore the swarm and focus on just one individual.

My brother and I were canoeing in northern Wisconsin the past couple of days. One evening, just after sunset, we were were standing and admiring trees' black lace reflections on the still, gilded water.

I happened to look up, and noticed hundreds of mayflies hovering silently just above our heads. At first, they seemed to be moving randomly about. But, recalling one of my favorite tricks for spotting small wonders, I decided to ignore the swarm and focus on just one individual.

PHOTO: Joe Petersburger - National Geographic Stock

Wings ablur, my fly would lift straight up five or six feet. Then his wings would suddenly come into sharp focus—stopping, not together in their resting position, but spread out to the sides—and the little guy would parachute straight back down to where he started.

We looked around, and just about every other mayfly was doing the same thing, bobbing straight up and down, over and over. We figured it must be some kind of mating ritual.

The composite wisdom of thousands of 
generations has taught them the best chance 
of landing atop Ms. Right.

Come to find out that there is, indeed, a method to the mayfly's madness. It's just the males bobbing up and down, not to show off their prowess, but simply to cover more ground—air, that is.

Evidently, the composite wisdom of thousands of generations has taught
them that, when you mate in mid-air, this affords you the best chance of landing atop Ms. Right.

Oh, what you can learn and marvel at when you look at things—
even things you thought you knew well—in new ways!


Emily Brisse said...

So true, Jeff! It's worth it to pause and take a slow look around.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks, Emily -- As a fellow Minnesotan, you know mayflies as well as anyone, right? Next time, check out the cool bobbing the males do.

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