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Great Lakes Article:

Swarms of mayflies not harmful -- just creepy
By Rob Amen
Valley News Dispatch
07/18/03

They may bug you, but an expert who studies mayflies, which once again have descended upon the Valley, said they will cause you no harm.

Mayflies are large, transparent-winged insects that rise from river bottoms, float on the surface and mate in the air before dying, usually within 72 hours. Their appearance in the Pittsburgh area -- you'll remember they hovered, then covered, PNC Park during a Pirates game a couple years back -- signals clean, viable waterways.

And contrary to popular opinion, they are not mosquitoes; they don't bite; and you cannot contract West Nile Virus from them.

"They really don't do anything in terms of harming anyone. They may be more of a nuisance to some people," said Edwin C. Masteller, emeritus professor of biology at Penn State, Behrend, who studies aquatic insects. "What it means is there's a lot of food for fish. As they're coming up the water, I'm sure a lot of fish are feeding on them."

Masteller said mayflies typically spend two to three years as nymphs in water such as Pittsburgh's three rivers or Lake Erie before ascending to the surface. After they fly away, they mate; females lay their eggs -- as many as 8,000 -- on the water's surface, then die, along with the males.

Reports have suggested mayflies were scarcely seen in the Pittsburgh area during the past 150 years, and Masteller said they were absent from the Erie area dating to the 1950s before beginning to emerge in 1997. By 1999, mayflies had become a common sight around the lake. Masteller said local meteorologists even included Doppler radar showing echoes of large swarms of mayflies during television newscasts.

Mayflies in Pittsburgh, which Masteller said likely are a different genus and species than those in Erie, began noticeably surfacing in 2001. As long as they deem the waterways clean, they'll probably stick around, Masteller said.

But he reiterated that they are harmless.

"They won't bother you at all," Masteller said. "Their only intent is to find a mate."

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