It has been a good year for willowflies on Guntersville Lake. Boaters and anglers have reported seeing good numbers of the aquatic insects in lots of different parts of the lake.
There was a hatch a few weeks ago near the Warrenton Causeway. Last Saturday, willowflies could be seen along the lake in front of the Lake Guntersville Chamber of Commerce.
Lake Guntersville State Park naturalist Mike Ezell has written about the insects in the past.
"This insect, always found near freshwater, goes by other local names, mayfly being the most common in most other states. Shadflies, Dunns, and spinners are other names used to describe these most useful and interesting insects," Ezell said.
"There are 676 species of willowflies in North America and Alabama is home to around 139 different species," he continued. "They are the rabbits and mice of our food webs, being prey for almost every fish species as well as birds and mammals.
"Not many things are more entertaining than watching a raccoon dining on a freshly hatched swarm hanging in a lakeside tree limb. Fishermen may or may not tell you the effect their presence will have on fish of every species," Ezell said.
The "fly" portion of their lives is just a small part of their life.
"Willowflies undergo incomplete metamorphosis, that is the larvae that hatch from eggs look almost like the adults except they have no wings," Ezell wrote. "These larvae live in water and sediments where they molt and grow. They shed their skin more than any other aquatic insect. All this time (3 months to 2 years, depending on species), they obtain their oxygen from the water through gills.
"At the last molt, they emerge from the water with wings and lungs to fly to nearby vegetation or sometimes, to town. This stage, the one we see, is called a subadult, or subimago stage, as they have one more molt to complete before becoming sexually mature adults (imagos)," Ezell said.
"These adults are short lived (90 minutes to 48 hours) and must find a mate of the same species quickly to spawn the next generation. They do this by swarming. Females can recognize males of the same species by the aerial dance they perform. The ladies will join the swarm, mate, lay their eggs in the water to sink to the bottom, then both male and females will die soon after. Separate species of willowflies will regenerate anywhere from twice a year to once every two years," he said.
We asked our readers about their willowfly experiences and got these responses:
Ashley Handrich: "We’ve had two 'hatchings' at our house (Claysville) in the past few weeks. I’ve never seen so many near our home before. They usually hit up the MAPCO by the airport."
Jack Moseley: "You can put them in a brown paper bag put in a refrigerator for up to 2 weeks and take out. When they warm up, they come back to life. When my dad owned Browns Creek Fish Camp, I would bag them up and sell them the next weekend. I would make $3,000 to $4,000 every summer and this was in the late 1960s early 70s. The late Porter Harvey took a picture of me catching them and put it on the front page of the paper."
Lee Capshaw: "2019 has been the best willowfly hatch in years. We saw them July 6th and we still saw some on July 28."
Cindy Yates: "You can catch them put them in a baggie and freeze them. My granddaddy used to do this for us kids when we were little. We had bait all year long. They're great for fishing."
Pam Guthrie: "We went camping at a local campground week before last. There was a tree covered with these. We watched a bird jump off an limb onto another limb and make the willowflies fly off. Then the birds would fly down and grab their snack right out of the sky. It was cool to watch. Birds love these as much as fish."
Freda Dabbs: "We went to Bat Cave and we saw more willowflies than we did bats. The screaming voices you heard going back were quite ear defending from the willowflies."