One With the Bugs?

Last night my family and a visitor from Japan went to visit High Cliff State Park near Appleton, Wisconsin, on the shores of Appleton’s largest lake, Lake Winnebago. The lake hosts a unique lake fly, the Winnebago lake fly, which has two hatches a year with massive swarms near the lake and river. I think yesterday must have been one of the big hatch days, because an hour after we arrived, clouds of these benign and elegant flies began swarming over the roads, attracted to the warmth of the rising air from the hot asphalt. The photo above was taken as I stood in the middle of the road. What looks like smoke is a cloud of millions of flying insects, each about an inch long.

The first time I encountered such a swarm, it was a rather frightening scene like something from a Hitchcock movie. But this time, it was beautiful. The flies make a wonderful hum as they buzz, with a dominant note that is just about a middle C (my wife had a tuning fork to verify this). I have never noticed this before, but it’s a marvelous sound.

When we saw the thick clouds over the roads, instead of wanting to get away, I had to stop and get out of the car. My family thought I was nuts – OK, no argument. I stood in the swarm, enjoying the waves of motion they made and the hum. They didn’t bother me, and I enjoyed participating in their ancient ritual of gathering, marveling at the rhythms of life that the Lord has placed on this amazing planet. (Had this been mosquitoes, my gratitude would have been substantially less – but the Winnebago lake fly is one of the most “friendly” of insects, apart from the mess they leave on windshields if one drives too fast.)

Our Japanese guest, an English teacher from Japan’s sister city with Appleton, Kanonji, felt lucky to have seen the spectacle of the bugs, and chuckled when I told her that I had been “one with the bugs.”


Author: Jeff Lindsay

5 thoughts on “One With the Bugs?

  1. Well the flies are here AGAIN….I don’t enjoy them..It would appear that with the coming of the zebra mussels in the water, we lost the large impact of the lake flies..Well,for the last 2-3 years the mussels had all but disappeared and back are the lake flies…I think I like the zebra mussels better…The flies leave their imprint on anything and everything outdoors when they die which is probably less than a week..and enjoy inside living as they follow you into your home or car…They leave a kind of “green” die when they die…supposedly they don’t have any stomaches and just flie around leaving eggs to hatch for the 2nd round of flies to be born a little later in the summer… What, if any relationship are these Lakeflies to the Mayflies?

  2. Contrary to popular belief, lake flies are not indigenous to Lake Winnebago. They were introduced to feed the sturgeon back in the 30’s as a DNR experiment because at that time, numbers of sturgeon were dangerously low and spearing was not allowed for a number of years. (And we all know what happens when the DNR decides to “experiment” with insects, right?).

    Proof of this is that Lake Poygan is also home for sturgeon, yet there are no lake flies there.

    The numbers of zebra mussels in the lake are not down, but remain steady. The lake flies are back due to the same reason they were here in the first place – the DNR.

  3. Anonymous from 1:02 PM, May 16, 2009, Lake Flies (Chironomus plumosus) ARE indigenous to Lake Winnebago. See Observations on Excessive Abundance of the Midge Chironomus plumosus at Lake Pepin
    M. S. Johnson and Francis Munger
    Ecology, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Jan., 1930), pp. 110-126 if you do not believe it. There are references to swarms from 1910. The association with sturgeon is invalid, and ludicrous as is the assumption that lack of presence of an organism in one body of water, although connected to another, is undeniable proof of your assertion.

  4. Mayflies and Lakeflies are from completely distinct orders. Both are aquatic and have short adult lives. Mayfly larva are beetle like in appearance, lake fly larva are worm like in appearance. Mayflies survive less than one day, while lake flies live as adults 3-11 days (temperature dependant, lower temps = longer adult lives)

  5. Juliette Kinzie reported lake flies in her book Wau-Bun in 1832. The Oshkosh Daily Northwestern reported them 1n 1878. Lake flies were first report by species in 1910. See "Economic and Biologic Notes on the Giant Midge" page 128.


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