June 23, 2011

Mayflies & Blisterflies: Summer Pests



     In mid-June my husband Monte and I spent a week in Lakeside, Ohio, at what is known as The Chautauqua on Lake Erie. My son was a delegate at an Ohio  United Methodist Church conference, and was staying in accommodations that would allow us to visit him while he was there.

      Just about the time we were leaving Lakeside, the mayflies were arriving.

     While traveling and during our visit, I was reviewing the chapters I have written in my historic romance novel, Intertwined Love, which included information on a summer pest in Philadelphia, the blisterfly.

     I cannot help but write about the similarities and the differences between the summer infestations of insects in 2010 Lakeside and 1791 Philadelphia.


Mayflies usually live for 24-72 hours. Don’t forget that they’ve already spent 1-2 years on the bottom of the lake as a nymph living burrowed in the mud. Within that three days, though, they manage to get into about everything you can imagine. You will find dead mayflies lying around on the sidewalks, in spider webs, on window ledges, etc. They’ll go anywhere where there’s light at night. Wear a white shirt outside at night and you’ll see what I mean.*

     Mayflies are attracted to white?


     On Madame Rosalie de Leval’s early July arrival from France to Philadelphia, she immediately discovers blisterflies. An excerpt from my novel will explain:

     While sharing a meal, Louis des Isles tells Madame…Because the flies are attracted to white, homes and establishments hang white paper garlands about their rooms. The inn here, like other establishments, has white paper on the chandelier, too, a décor that distracts the bugs. You can tell by the fly specks accumulating on the paper, even at this early hour. The papers have to be changed constantly because they become disgustingly black.  Even women’s white dresses become covered with flyspecks.

     Saraphine (Madame’s daughter) glanced at her dress. It was white, confused whether to be pleased or disgusted to see several black specks dotting it. Then, as she looked up, spotting the garlands in the dining room, Madame said “I thought the garlands were just an unusual American decoration.”

     From other references: Our officinal insect is the Gantharis vesicatoria; and since the principal supply is from Spain, we call them commonly Spanish –flies…*** In actuality, the blister fly is a beetle.*****


     Mayflies have numerous a.k.a.s:  Junebug, Mayfly, Canadian Soldier, Fish Fly… Their official scientific name is ‘Hexagenia‘*

Mayfly bodies measure about one inch long and tails range from 1/2 to 3 inches in length. Color and size vary, but there appears to this reporter to be two main types, or species, of mayflies in this area. The larger variety have thicker bodies with a yellowish golden color. They normally have shorter tails (sometimes forked in a V shape) but the tail may be longer after they shed…The other variety have smaller, very dark, bodies and longer tails.*

     I heard the locals and conference attendees speak of the arrival of the Mayfly with dread. My daughter in law Tammy told me the sidewall of our pale yellow accommodations might be covered with them when we woke up the last morning of our stay (it wasn’t—it was a day too early—they hadn’t made it up from the lake yet, but at the lakeside buildings screens and buildings were bug covered).

Mayfly covered screen

     What they were saying was that the Mayfly is a devil of an insect.


     “These blisterflies are a devil of an insect. When they light upon the food, they befoul it to a degree that destroys a person’s appetite.  They are so extremely plentiful that they are gathered by bushels. Large stores have to be swept up four times a day,” Louis told Madame.

     Averitable torture during Philadelphia’s hot season is the innumerable flies which constantly light on the face and hands, stinging everywhere and turning everything black because of the filth they leave wherever they light. Rooms must be kept


closed unless one wishes to be tormented in his bed at the break of day, and this need of keeping everything shut makes the heat of the night even more unbearable and sleep more difficult.

And so the heat of the day makes one long for bedtime because of weariness, and a single fly which has gained entrance to your room in spite of all precautions drives you from your bed.****


     While at the pier on the lakefront, I saw mayflies that had been swept into a pile—apparently a morning routine:

At least the mayfly has one redeeming quality: According to the Department of Entomology at Purdue University, mayflies constitute one of the most important groups of bottom-dwelling animals in streams and rivers throughout the world. Mayflies are very good indicators of the health of the water and eco-system.*


Their only redeeming quality of the blisterfly is that the poultry likes to eat them, Louis would tell Madame.

     If the blisterflies have any other redeeming qualities, it is their vesicatory principle… called Cantharidine..they are employed externally in medicine to produce blisters, and internally as a powerful stimulant.*** However, Many other instances might be brought, continues Brookes, of persons that have either killed or brought to deaths’ door, by a wanton use of these Flies, which had been given them privately, with a design to cause love. Some go so far as to affirm that people have been thrown into a fever, only by sleeping under trees on which were a great number of Cantharides; and Mr. Boyle informs us, after authors worthy of credit, that some persons have felt considerable pains about the neck of the bladder, only by holding Cantharides in their hands…***


     Thus are my lessons on mayflies and blisterflies, from recent experience and research into the 1790 decade.









Don’t let the bed bugs bite…


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