Mayflies Composted To Make Free Fertilizer

PORT CLINTON, Ohio (AP) - They're pesky, smelly and show up everywhere.

While the millions of mayflies that invade cities along Lake Erie are a nuisance every year, they're fairly easy to dispose of after they die. It turns out the nonbiting bugs make good compost.

"We feel very, very fortunate. We're the only (place) in the United States that has a licensed landfill for mayfly composting," Mayor Tom Brown said. "We took an ecological problem and sanitary condition and turned it into an ecological solution to deal with mayflies."

The mayflies are late this year, possibly because of cool spring temperatures. The hatches typically peak June 18-21 and last about a month.

After hatching and sprouting wings, they head for the light and die within 24 to 48 hours, said Matt Thomas, assistant manager of Stone Laboratory, Ohio State University's fresh water biological field station on Gibralter Island. They swarm by the millions onto businesses and homes, covering doors and screens and leaving a foul odor as people walk and drive over their bodies.

City workers scoop the dead mayfly bodies and drop them at the local landfill where they are mixed with wood chips and bulking agents to make free fertilizer for residents.

"They decompose very quickly. They're mostly protein. They're wonderful fertilizer," Brown said.

In 1998, Port Clinton received a $23,000 grant from Lake Erie Commission to deal with mayflies. Part of the grant was used to add the compost site to the landfill and part of it was used to install light switches to turn off city streetlights when the swarms come.

This year, mayfly numbers are a little higher than they were last year, Thomas said. Their presence is an indicator of a healthier lake. Mayflies were killed off from the 1950s through the 1980s by high levels of phosphates that reduced oxygen in the lake.

"They need oxygen to live," Thomas said.

They're also a good food source for fish, turtles, birds and bats.

Gary Winters, manager of Turtle Point Store, said he makes fish food out of the piles of bugs.

"The other morning was the biggest hatch -- about 6 inches deep around the (gas) pump. I just get the leaf blower out and blow them off the sides of buildings and sidewalks," he said.

The bugs are blown into a creek next to the Point Place marina and become fish food, Winters said.

"There's a lot of bass in here. You can see them jump up and eat (the mayflies)."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)