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What Are Some Interesting Facts About Mayflies?

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Quick Answer

Mayflies are aquatic insects that can live up to two years in their larval state and only a few hours to days in their adult state. As adults, mayflies live only long enough to mate and reproduce before dying.

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Mayflies start out in a larval state called nymphs, which closely resemble the adults of the species. However, instead of wings, the nymphs or naiads contain gills. They live in freshwater for a few months to a few years, depending on the species. During this time, they feed on vegetation and moult dozens of times, undergoing an incomplete metamorphosis or hemimetabolism, which means they bypass the pupal stage and jump right to adulthood.

During one of the last of the moulting stages, they develop wings and emerge from their watery home for a last moult as nymphs. The adult or imago has antennae, four wings and a two- or three-filament abdomen. As an adult, the mayfly doesn't eat and can barely move on its legs. It lives only long enough to mate while in flight and drop its eggs into freshwater.

Although the shortest lived as an adult among all insects, the mayfly is also the oldest winged insect. It evolved during the Permian to Carboniferous periods, about 250 to 300 million years ago.

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