If you were anywhere near here last week, you saw the flies. Clouds of them. Thanks to my neighbour Carol for capturing the image above as they emerged from the lake. When not flying, they crowded in clusters on anything from buildings to rocks. They ruined people’s morning coffee on the patio and evening dinner on the deck. They’re gross but harmless, and short-lived.
The locals call them fish flies because of their smell. In North Bay, they’re known as shad flies. Their proper name is mayflies because May is when they usually appear. So what in the world are they doing in Port Stanley in mid-October?
They are disgusting but they’re also not terribly interested in humans. They have one goal: to reproduce. This is the adult phase of the fly’s life cycle. Each fly has been living at the bottom of Lake Erie for up to two years. Once it emerges, it has about 24-hours or so to make babies like Nick Cannon, without his fame or money.
These flies don’t have mouths. You heard me. No mouths. They take in oxygen from the water through a set of gills. Once they’re out and about, they’re cream-coloured. After a while, they drop that coat and become a reddish-brown. That’s how you know they’ve moved into the Tinder phase, and they’ll swipe right on any fly that’s nearby. Then, it’s back to the water to lay the eggs and expire. If they’re lucky. Some just live short, lonely, unreproductive lives on screen doors, sidewalks, and car hoods before a messy death.
Walking through a swarm of those flies leaves me with the sensation that I’ve eaten one. I’m pretty sure I haven’t, but it feels like one is lodged in my throat. They can’t bite but once they’re on you, they stay there. It’s up to you to find and remove them. Also, what kind of lazy mating dance is gathering in a clump on our front door?
This year, Port Stanley experienced nothing like what’s happening in this short video from North Bay. I was in that city once, long ago, during shad fly season. The street lamps all had drooping beards of clustered flies. They crunched underfoot no matter where you walked.
These flies are, according to experts, a sign of a healthy body of water. As I write this, they are almost all gone. Still, no one has been able to answer the question: why did we get mayflies in October? If you know, please end the mystery in the comments below. Meantime, I’m counting a shad fly per day as a small serving of protein, just in case.