Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

June 21, 2008

My Little Yellow Mayfly

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:10 pm

  ‘Tis the season for Mayfly hatches. Even though it’s not May anymore, the big Mayfly season is just underway. Perhaps it would be better to refer to these creatures by their alternate name of June bug – since it is June.  But, then things would get really confusing since some would assume I am talking Junebug Beetles which are also known as May Beetles.  Maybe it is due to this potential confusion that most folks simple call them Fishflies.

  Entomologists would remind us that the proper common term is really Mayfly and that they are members of the Ephemeroptera order. They couldn’t resist adding, however, that technically they are not flies and that different species emerge at different times of the year, so the common name is totally misleading.  They would also interject that there is another unrelated aquatic beast that already lays claim to the name of Fishfly.  These too are not really flies, but….O.K., whatever. The point is that certain members of this group- stupidly known as Mayflies – are now leaving their wingless “may” fly stage and entering their “are” flying stage.

 The Giant Burrowing Mayflies, affectionately known as the “Hexs” among fly fishermen, dominate the local hatch scene. These are the ones that come out in huge masses to cover the sides of buildings and those horrible numbers on gas station signs. Because of the overwhelming nature of this species hatch, other Mayfly species tend to get overlooked. Take this little yellow Mayfly (pictured above), for instance.

  I found this little gem mixed in with a herd of larger fishflies. Take a look here for a size comparison with one of the Burrowing Mayflies. It is a pint-sized thing whose light yellow color makes it a stand out in the dark company of greater beasts. I would like to call it a Light Cahill Mayfly and be done with it, but I can’t. When it comes to the lesser mayflies, names are used over and over again.

  Technically my butter hued friend is called Stenacron interpunctatum – a name which brings a smile to the lips of entomologists but gets stuck in the commoner’s mouth. This species requires moving water and riffles as habitat. It can tolerate warm water but can’t tolerate polluted water. It is, therefore, a harbinger of good things – as are all mayflies.  When these things emerge they do so in a sporadic manner over the summer so they don’t get noticed.  I am now serving you notice.

  I was curious about the “Cahill” name, so did a bit of investigating.  I discovered that there are four or five light colored “flies” all called Cahills. All of the mayflies in this group are very similar in appearance, even though they are completely different species. The name stems from the human end of the picture. Fly fishermen tie imitations of aquatic insects, such as mayflies, in order to lure fish to their hooks.  Using a combination of yellow thread and speckled Wood Duck flank feathers, the Cahill fly is a type of fishing fly (see here) that imitates generic small yellow mayflies such as  Stenacron interpunctatum.

  It is interesting that the artificial name eventually became the only common name available for the real insects. The artificial fly in question was invented in the 1880’s by a New York Railroad brakeman and avid trout fisher by the name of Daniel Cahill. His pattern became famous among fisher people the world ‘round. Today, the fake flies are much better known than the Little Yellow flies that inspired them. 

  It might interest you to know that during the course of my research, I came across a link on one of the fly-fishing pages that referred to a product called a “Frog Hair Supple Butt Leader.” I was tempted to order a few just to be able to tell someone I was expecting some Frog Hair Supple Butts in the mail. In any case, such a thing stands as certain confirmation that fly fisher people sure have a way with words.


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