Monday, May 8, 2017

Episode 367 (5-8-17): A High School Call for Mayflies

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:14)

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, images, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 5-5-17.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of May 8, 2017.

SOUNDS – ~12 sec - stream riffle in Montgomery County, Va., 7/1314; James River rapids at Richmond, 2/17/14; waves on shore of Claytor Lake in Pulaski County, Va., 9/30/12.

This week, those sounds of a riffle in a stream, rapids in a large river, and waves on a lake shore set a habitats stage for learning about a diverse and unusual group of aquatic insects. Have a listen for about 15 seconds to a series of mystery names, and see if you can guess this insect group.

GUEST VOICES - ~17 sec
Males: Common Burrower! Brushlegged!
Females: Little Stout Crawler! Spiny Crawler!
Males: Small Squaregill! Prongilled!
Females: Small Minnow! Primitive Minnow!
Males and females: Flatheaded!

If you guessed mayflies, you’re right! You’ve been listening to the names of 13 kinds of mayflies, part of the over 670 species found in North America.  The names were shouted out by students from Patrick County High School, located in Stuart, Virginia, during a visit to Virginia Tech on March 31, 2017.

Scientists categorize insects into about 30 large groups known as orders; the order of mayflies is called Ephemeroptera, based on the Greek word ephemeros, meaning “lasts only a day.”  That name refers to the very short adult phase of a mayfly’s life cycle—typically about 24 hours, just long enough to find mates and reproduce.  The mating occurs in large swarms of adults emerging simultaneously—swarms so large along big rivers like the Mississippi that they’ve been known to cover roadways and bridges.  For many species, the mating swarms occur around the month of May, giving mayflies their common name.

Before this short adult phase, mayflies live as aquatic larvae (also called nymphs in this insect order); for most species, this phase lasts a few months.  As a group, mayfly larvae live in practically any freshwater habitat you can imagine.  Most species prefer stones, wood, or other materials in fast-flowing water, but others prefer slower water or even the relatively still water of lakes or ponds. In these habitats, mayflies are important parts of food webs, eating organic debris or algae and in turn being eaten by fish and many other predators.  Their role as prey for game fish makes mayflies a popular model for fly-fishing lures.  And the diversity and abundance of mayflies in many aquatic habitats make them valuable for biological monitoring of water quality.

Variety; enormous mating swarms; ecological importance; angling fame—there’s a lot to discover about...[GUEST VOICES] mayflies!

Thanks to Patrick County High School students and the school’s Dan River Basin Association Club for lending their voices to this episode.


For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The guest voices in this episode were students from Patrick County High School, located in Stuart, Virginia, recorded on a visit to the Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment on March 31, 2017. Thanks to the students, the school’s Dan River Basin Association Club, school faculty Stephen Henderson and Brenda Martin, and the Dan River Basin Association’s Wayne Kirkpatrick for their visit and participation in this episode.

Thanks to Michael Martz for the recording of the James River at Richmond in February 2014.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode. More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at


Adult mayfly photographed in Lee County, Va., May 2010.  Photo by Tony Timpano, used with permission.
Flatheaded mayfly larvae.  Photograph of drawing by Amy Bartlett Wright, part of “America’s Aquatic Insects—Indicators of Stream Health,” a poster published by Virginia Cooperative Extension (Pub. #420-710), not dated.
Adult mayflies swarming around a ballfield light in Shawsville, Va. (Montgomery County), May 12, 2014.

Used in Audio

Amateur Entomologists’ Society, online at

Iowa State University Department of Entomology, “BugGuide/Order Ephemeroptera,” online at

R. W. Merritt and K. W. Cummins, An Introduction to the Aquatic Insects of North America, 2nd Edition, Kendall/Hunt, Dubuque, Ia., 1984.

Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus/American Edition, Oxford University Press, New York, N.Y., 1996.

J. Reese Voshell, Jr., A Guide to Common Freshwater Invertebrates of North America, McDonald and Woodward, Blacksburg, Va., 2002.

University of Florida Department of Entomology,

For More Information about Aquatic Insects

Sarah Engel, “Bottom-dwellers Tell Stories about the Water Above,” Virginia Water Central, April-June 2002, pages 11-17, Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Blacksburg, online at

W. Patrick McCafferty, Aquatic Entomology: The Fishermen's and Ecologists' Illustrated Guide to Insects and Their Relatives, Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Toronto, 1998; available for order online at

University of Florida Department of Entomology, “Featured Creatures” Web site,


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the “Insects” and “Invertebrates Other Than Insects” subject categories.

Previous episodes on aquatic macroinvertebrates include the following:
Episode 78, 9/5/11 – on mosquitoes;
Episode 81, 9/26/11 – on stream assessment with aquatic macroinvertebrates;
Episode 119 (revisited), 8/3/15 – on dragonflies and damselflies;
Episode 262, 4/20/15 – on freshwater snails;
Episode 268, 6/1/15 – on chironomids (non-biting midges);
Episode 363, 4/10/17 – on aquatic macroinvertebrates generally.

Previous episodes featuring Virginia high school students including the following:
Episode 325, 7/18/16 – on Chesapeake Bay submerged aquatic vegetation.
Episode 363, 4/10/17 – on aquatic macroinvertebrates (featuring the same Patrick County High School students heard in this episode).


Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 - Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
K.7 – basic needs and processes of plants and animals.
1.5 - animals’ basic needs and distinguishing characteristics.
2.4 - life cycles.
3.4 - behavioral and physiological adaptations.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 - living things as part of a system, including habitats.
3.5 - food webs.
3.6 - ecosystems, communities, populations, shared resources.
4.5 - ecosystem interactions and human influences on ecosystem.
6.7 - natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.4 - organisms’ classification based on features.
LS.8 - community and population interactions, including food webs, niches, symbiotic relationships.
LS.9 - adaptations for particular ecosystems’ biotic and abiotic factors, including characteristics of land, marine, and freshwater environments.

Biology Course
BIO.6 - bases for modern classification systems, including structures, biochemistry, and developmental stages.
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at