Annoying may be the best adjective to describe the mayfly. However, river enthusiasts say Harrisburg’s winged-pests should be celebrated, not vilified.
Two years after inking his name to the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin wrote the satirical autobiography “The Ephemera: An Emblem of Human Life.” Ephemera is the French word for mayfly, and Franklin likened his life to the insect; short-lived yet vital to human existence.
More than 200 years later, Harrisburg Senators baseball players donned their “Independence Day” jerseys that flashed stars and stripes. During the latest homestretch this week, mayflies swarmed the field and the stands. Clouds of white specks fluttering past stadium lights looked more like a blizzard in January than a baseball game in July.
Katie Miller said when she strolls or bikes along the riverfront, she often gets a face full of mayflies.
“They’re pretty nasty along Front Street,” she said. “It makes for a nice little snack.”
Although most joke mayflies are a good source of protein (660 grams per kilo), they have become a topic of hatred around Harrisburg. Most will spew stories about being bombarded by these mouthless creatures.
Then there’s Steve Oliphant. The life-long city native grew up on the Susquehanna River. He remembers a time when mayflies were non-existent due to polluted waters.
“Mayflies are good and they’re beautiful!” he said.
In the late 80’s and 90’s, Oliphant said mayflies slowly returned. Now, there are swarms along the river and clouds that clutter City Island.
“For me, they’re sort of a celebration of the water quality of the Susquehanna has come back,” Oliphant said.
Environmentalists do look for loads of mayfly larvae among rivers, a sign the water is clean and clear enough for reproduction. The higher population of these bugs strengthens the river’s ecosystem and provides food for fish and birds.
Oliphant said people should embrace the mayfly.
Harrisburg Senators fans know the baseball team has. The organization said they were changing their name to the Harrisburg Mayflies as the team’s April Fool’s joke this year.
The Senators have since introduced a line of Mayflies merchandise. Every seventh inning, the team has a “Party Like a Mayfly” segment.
Unlike the newly adopted mascot’s smiling face may depict, mayflies do not have mouths. These insects cannot bite or sting.
“They’re not hungry,” said Oliphant. “They have one job. They make more mayflies then they die.”
There are more than 2,500 species of mayflies; 630 different kinds are native to North America. A mayfly life span may range from a few minutes to a couple days. Most only live within a day, only to reproduce.
So, the mayfly should be considered a true American patriot for its fight to maintain the Susquehanna River’s independence, right?
“I’d still prefer them not here,” Miller said with a laugh.