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Fly Tying

"Burrowing Mayfly" or "Willow Fly"

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In his book, "Catching Bluegill," John Tertuliani says, "A good example of an important insect species is the burrowing mayfly. Called the willow fly in the South, this larva grows to a larger size as far as insects go, and it gets the undivided attention of the bluegill population when it emerges from the lake bed to hatch."


So what is the correct identification of this insect? I know that there are a number of insects that are called "Willow Fly." One Western, another (or is it the same one) that is a Northern insect, and even one that is found only in 3 counties along the SC/GA border.


From what I have been able to discover, this may be the Hexagenia, but I'm not sure. Can anyone help me with the proper identification of the "burrowing mayfly?"





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Down here in Louisiana, that's definitely one of two Hexagenia species, either limbata, or a closely related species....the limbata are common in the marshes, but the other species is slightly smaller and I've never been quite able to narrow down which one.


Mark Delaney

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In South Carolina, you have three families of burrowing mayflies. The first family, Behningiidae (Tuskless Burrowers) has only one resident genus and species, Dolania americana. For an extremely interesting and informative article about it, see The American Sand Burrowing Mayfly by W. Patrick McCafferty.


The second family, Ephemeridae (Common Burrowers) has two resident genera and five resident species, Ephemera blanda, E. guttulata, E. simulans, Hexagenia bilineata, and H. limbata.


The third family, Polymitarchidae (Pale Burrowers) contains two resident genera and three resident species, Ephoron leukon, Tortopus primus, and T. puella.


Of the above species which reside in South Carolina, the two which definitely reside in certain lake substrates, are Ephemera simulans, and Hexagenia limbata.


Ephemera simulans is the smaller of the two, achieving a mature nymphal length (exclusive of tails) of up to18 mm (~3/4”), has 3 tails as a nymph, dun, or spinner. See photos by Jason Neuswanger on Troutnut.com


Hexagenia limbata is considerably larger, achieving a mature nymphal length (exclusive of tails) of up to 37 mm (~1 1/5”), has 3 tails as a nymph, and 2 as a dun or spinner. See photos by Jason Neuswanger on Troutnut.com.


So, as you suspected, and others have confirmed, your “burrowing mayfly” is most likely Hexagenia limbata.


Incidentally, the common name, Willowfly (or improperly, Willow Fly) is customarily used to describe members of Stonefly family (Taeniopterygidae).

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