Mayflies and midges: What's the difference?

Mayflies and midges: What's the difference?

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- We wanted the answer to which is worse; midges or mayflies? We all survive the midge hoard which seemed to die off last week and now it's time to get ready for the mayfly season thanks to Lake Erie. For help with the debate we went to Dr. Gavin Svenson, who is the assistant director of science, curator and head of Invertebrate Zoology for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. In short Gavin studies bugs and told us his specialty is the praying mantis. Before we put the two bugs head to head lets understand a little bit about each according to Svenson.

Lake Midges

Midges are small flies related to mosquitoes and crane flies. However, they don't bite. They spend most of their lives as worm-like larvae on the bottom of the lake. They live as adults for a short time and gather in large swarms to find a mate and reproduce. Adults are thought to not feed, but evidence suggests that they will eat nectar and pollen to extend their lives. They are harmless to humans and do not carry any diseases. A healthy population of midges means plenty of food for the animals that depend on insects as food.

Lake Mayflies

Mayflies are an ancient group of insects related dragonflies and damselflies. They spend most of their lives as immature nymphs in lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams. Once they reach adulthood, they gain wings and fly to find a mate and reproduce. They live for a very short amount of time as adults. Mayfly adults don't even feed, their mouth parts are not functional, which means their only interest as adults is to reproduce. They are harmless to humans and do not carry any diseases. They are an important source of food for fish and other aquatic organisms. They also transfer energy from the lake to the land by serving as important food for birds and other terrestrial organisms.

But we want to take this a step further a pit the midge against the mayfly. We asked our bug doc who would win head to head in the following categories?

Most annoying?


Most likely to get in your mouth while walking/running/exercising outside? 

Midges (which is why they are the most annoying)

Most important to the environment?

Tie, they are both good in different ways. Midges probably have a bigger impact on the region.

Biggest population in Cleveland?


Best (or better) bug over all? 

Midges, hands down. The Great Lakes are famous for them. They form clouds over the lake and shore and feed countless fish, bats, birds, predatory insects and amphibians. They are true survivors and are good for the health of the region. Mayflies are cool, but midges dominate.

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