UConn insect expert David Wagner on the troubling decline of the mayfly

UConn insect expert David Wagner on the troubling decline of the mayfly

September 22, 20222 min read

One of the world's oldest flying insects is in trouble.

Mayflies are in serious decline and, after 300 million years in existence, their dwindling population should be an alarm bell for all of us.

More than just a bug with a short life span flying masterfully near creeks, rivers, and ponds, the mayfly plays a serious role in local ecosystems and the environment at large. A key component in the food chain, the mayfly nymph feeds off of algae, plants, and rotting leaves, cleaning up nature's mess while growing large enough to become a meal itself -- for fish, amphibians, lizards, birds, and even humans.

Without mayflies, the ripple effect upwards could mean calamity for the planet.

In a recent Washington Post Magazine deep-dive, UConn insect expert David Wagner offered his perspective on the on the plight of the mayfly:

I reached out to David Wagner, a biologist and lepidopterist at the University of Connecticut, for context, thinking that perhaps the problems were isolated or overblown. He has studied insects for decades and reviewed numerous scientific studies about them from around the globe. He did not provide much comfort. There’s a growing body of research suggesting that the world is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction, he said. The losses of all kinds of creatures appear to be driven by climate change, habitat degradation, pollution and other ecological stressors.

In a paper for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year, “Insect Decline in the Anthropocene: Death by a Thousand Cuts,” Wagner and several other scientists delivered a stark warning about the disappearance of insects. The report did not focus on mayflies, but Wagner told me they are among the most vulnerable of the world’s insects because of their need for clean, well-oxygenated water. “Mayflies are reliable ‘canaries in the coal mines’ for freshwater systems,” he explained. “And their future prospects, especially in areas that are drying or warming, are bleak.”  September 19 - Washington Post Magazine

Dr. David Wagner is an expert in caterpillars, butterflies, moths, and insect conservation, and he's commented extensively on the current decline of insects worldwide. Click his icon to arrange an interview today.

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  • David Wagner, Ph.D.
    David Wagner, Ph.D. Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Behavior

    Professor Wagner is an expert in caterpillars, butterflies, moths, insect conservation, global insect decline

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