Monday, July 03, 2000

Swarm of annoyance Lake Erie insects arrive

Mayflies invade Lake Erie shoreline

By John Seewer
The Associated Press

        PORT CLINTON, Ohio — They stick to your clothes. They land in your hair.

        Like creatures out of a crude horror movie, millions of mayflies are rising again out of Lake Erie and swarming its shoreline.

        Towns in Ohio, Michigan and Canada are blanketed with the flying insects that cling to windows, fast-food signs, cars — just about anything. Not only do they look disgusting, they crunch when people walk and drive over their bodies.

        “It's like running over Rice Krispies,” said car dealer Troy Maxwell. “You can hear them popping.”

        They make streets slippery, too. Just last week a motorcyclist was injured when he lost control of his cycle as his rear wheel slid on a pile of dead mayflies.

        It may be little consolation to shoreline residents, but the mayflies are a sign of a healthier Lake Erie.

        They were killed off from the 1950s through the 1980s by high pollution levels that reduced oxygen in the lake. Now that the lake is cleaner, the mayfly has made a comeback.

        They began returning along western Lake Erie in 1996.

        The pesky insects have a life expectancy of one or two days, sticking around just long enough to reproduce and bother people. A female mayfly can lay up to 8,000 eggs.

        The invasion begins in June and usually ends within a month.

        Mayflies are about an inch or two long with paper-thin wings and big, beady eyes.

        “They're like snowflakes almost, they're all different,” said Laurie Eberle, Port Clinton's administrative assistant.

        They don't bite, though. They're just plain gross.

        The mayflies are generally found in the shallow areas of western Lake Erie and its shores. Winds on the lake usually push them toward Ohio's shoreline, but this year the winds have been blowing toward Canada.

        Cities in Ontario were covered with mayflies earlier in June. Now the pests are coming back to Ohio.

        Port Clinton, halfway between Toledo and Cleveland, is a charming town along Lake Erie that's popular with boaters, sunbathers and anglers.

        In early summer, though, out-of-town visitors are understandably repulsed.

        “Everywhere you go is just full of them,” Frieda Schmuki, of Na varre, said as she tried to enjoy a scoop of vanilla ice cream. “I'm trying to watch what I'm eating.”

        Seconds later she was plucking a mayfly out of her granddaughter's hair.

        Most residents have learned to cope, knowing to close their doors and their mouths.

        Porch lights, street lamps, and advertising signs are turned off at night to avoid attracting swarms.

        Restaurants use leaf-blowers and snow shovels to clear sidewalks.

        One recent hatch left windows at a Burger King covered with mayflies. Some even got inside and were hanging from the ceiling.

        Said restaurant manager Luanne Keller: “It's not appetizing.”

        Other's don't bother cleaning up.

        “We just leave them be,” said Carrie Smith, a gas station employee. “Because there's just more coming.”


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