Every year in late spring, the mayflies swarm out of the St. Lawrence river and cover the city of Montreal in a blanket of fluttering wings. It lasts for a few days and then they are gone. Fortunately, mayflies don’t bite or sting. Their only annoyance comes from their sheer numbers and their absolute stupidity. All they do is show up and flutter, flutter, flutter, tirelessly and endlessly. They cover our cars and busses, they darken our windows, and they circle round and round your head until you think you’re going to lose your mind.

Last Friday evening I was holding court at Verses Sky, the terrace on the roof of the Hotel Nelligan in old Montreal. Everything was fine until about 7:30 PM, and then, as if someone flipped a switch, mayfly season opened.

Did I mention they’re stupid? They seemed fixated on the Carlsberg umbrellas. Every Carlsberg umbrella had a cloud of mayflies incessantly spinning in circles over its apex. It went on and on. Half an hour later it was still going on, except there were more of them.



By 8:15 it was out of control. Every umbrella had its own swarm, four times bigger than you see in these pictures, plus a handful of random un-umbrellaed tables had swirling balls of mayflies just above face level. People were smoking furiously in futile attempts to shoo them away, but they kept at it. There was no purpose to it; they’re not like mosquitos on the hunt for blood, or moths stupidly drawn to flame. No, they just picked random tables and went to town with their infinite and useless swirling.

We left. Even though our table was unbothered by the mayflies, their unending and futile flapping (not unlike SEO and social network marketing types on Twitter) was driving me nuts. So too was the lack of beer on tap (bottles only? WTF?); an inconvenience I was willing to put up with for the sake of the view. But with the sun setting and the mayflies threatening to smother us, off we went.

But that’s no reason to avoid Verses Sky. By the time you read this, mayfly season will likely be over.

22 thoughts on “Mayflies

  1. You were sitting amidst multiple meet & mate parties, Blork. The adult Mayflies swarm in a mating flight. In these swarms the male adults fly up and down while the females fly through the swarm. In these pass-throughs, males seize a female and mating takes place. The mating swarms generally occur at dawn or dusk. Females likely would head down to the water to lay and the males simply hang around until they drop – like Mayflies.

    Soon time to switch from worms to flies if you’re fishing!

  2. Thanks for writing. I had never even heard of Mayflies, let alone seen one.

    I (un)fortunately do know pantry moths, deer flies, blackflies and mosquitos, to mention some of the wildlife.

  3. I remember one time I was driving toward Toronto and I had to get off the highway somewhere around Brockville to find a gas station with diesel for my old truck. It was in the spring sometime and approaching evening. I ended up on Highway 2 running along the St Lawrence and ran into a swarm of them so huge that they covered my window. I made the mistake of putting my windshield wipers on. Big mistake! I had this huge green smeared sludge on the window. I finally found a gas station and had to scrub the window to get it clean. The radio antenna was just covered with them. They even took a bit of the paint off around the window! I had never seen them so bad.

  4. So THAT’S what those bastards are! I wrote a poem about the little fucks a couple of weeks back.


    I hate bugs.

  5. Harry, you make it sound like a night out on Ste. Catherine street!

    Thanks for the poetic insight, Nick. :-)

    Incidentally, they’re not bugs. While all bugs are insects, not all insects are bugs. (True “bugs” are hemipterous, meaning they have two pairs of wings and piercing or sucking mouth parts.)

  6. My guess is they were gathering their due to the updraft of heat from the people sitting at the table. At the umbrellas that heat is focused through the vent at the top.

    I was actually thinking the other day that I haven’t seen that many this year crossing the bridge. Maybe they’ve learned to hang out at the bars.

  7. Try going for a bike ride between Verdun and Nuns’ Island when tis the season… My advice? If not wearing a full-face mask (y’know, in the warm sun!), shut your mouth, makes your eyes into slits, and go fast. Even then you’ll eat a few. Yummy!

  8. Hey, if there are that many of them they can’t be all that stupid, biologically speaking, that is.

  9. Flutter, hey!?! First time I hear it called this. You know that they only live about 24 hours in their adult state and that they don’t even have a mouth. So the only thing they do in their short life span is…”flutter, flutter, flutter,” there are worse way to live a life.

  10. No, no no. You do NOT know bug rage until you’ve seen me vacuum a spider from the ceiling (with regret, but there ya go) and any other bug I’m terrified of so I make someone ELSE vacuum the bastards up.

    I think I heard somewhere that the combined weight of bugs dwarfs the combined weight of human beings.

    This is not a factoid I like.

    Thus the Bug Shrink. That would be Blork.

  11. Hey Nick, one of these days I’ll tell you about the five days I spent in the Amazon jungle, living among the goliath cockroaches and the tarantulas. (I’m not kidding.) Most of the roaches stayed on the floor, but some could fly. As soon as the sun went down, they came out by the hundreds. One night a flying cockroach flew into our open-air hut and hit a pole. It sounded like a golf ball hitting a wall. The bastard was a bit stunned and was lying on his back trying to right himself. He was only slightly smaller than the computer mouse on my desk.

    And oh, the tarantulas. And the king spiders! Streams of leaf-cutter ants six inches wide stretching into the jungle as far as the eye could see. Woo hoo!


  12. Oh



    I believe you. Like I said in my post, I killed cockroaches recreationally with a BB gun. They really are called cockroaches (think Tony Montana in Scarface) for a reason. And West African cockroaches make American ones look like dwarves.

    Tarantulas . . . well, people keep them as pets. They don’t scare me. They have rear-facing hairs that they can shower you with if they’re alarmed (and of course they stay under your skin and cause nasty infections) but I sure as Hell wouldn’t want one in my hand.

    I remember in Zaïre (now the Congo) that there was a plague of beetles. They were about two inches long and black and bristly. One night I got stoned and said “I can handle this.” So I put one on my hand.

    Needless to say, it was the most disgusting feeling I can imagine. Those little horned legs trying to crawl around on me.

    That was a very bad experiment.

    I will never, repeat NEVER be an entomologist. Rats? I love rats! Mice? Even cuter! But bugs?


    Your Amazon experience just tells me to stay the hell in Montreal. Permanently.

    Butterflies, I can deal with.

  13. I survived a mayfly invasion while stopping in North Bay last summer. They have quite the “ick” factor, but they beat those carnivorous blackflies!

  14. I remember one spring biking to work in Old Montreal, along the canal. I hit one spot where they had gathered and dropped my head just as I hit the swarm. The spack-spack-spack sound of them squashing on my helmet disgusted me. But not as much as the few who got by and z-iiiiii-p into my nose and mouth they went. I wore a mask for the next few trips.

    Ugh, hate em hate em hate em !!

  15. Oh, Christ, that is just such a disgusting story . . . I remember just JOGGING IN THE STREET when a fly flew into my mouth.

    Ai yai yai.

  16. Ah, so the mayflies were engaged in a mating ritual, not unlike many of the bar patrons below them, no?

    Have you tried a chocolate-covered cricket at the Insectarium yet? Tastes like chicken! (Well no, not really. Tastes like cricket covered in chocolate!)

    Bugs rock!

  17. Bugs.

    Bugs Bug Me! I even get creeped out even eating shrimp because I know they’re basically bugs! Hey, can you say “arthropod?”

    Of course, I could be wrong.

  18. Nick you have imspired me to write my own poem about Mayflies. I dislike them too and if I really have to eat another one while biking it will be too soon:)

  19. can’t type tonight sorry, so frustrated with bugs. That was supposed to read “inspired”

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