Tisza mayfly – Palingenia longicauda

Long-tailed Mayflies (Palingenia longicauda) hatching in the Tisza River -- Solvin Zankl/Visuals Unlimited,Inc. ©

Guest curator: Following his extremely successful caddis fly entry into the Cabinet in March, BioFresh partner Dr Daniel Hering returns to showcase Palingenia longicaudia, or the Tisza mayfly – Europe’s largest mayfly.  You can find a special series of articles on the fascinating ecological, cultural and recreational importance of the mayfly on the BioFresh blog.

Mayflies are an abundant and diverse insect group occurring in running and to some degree in standing waters. In German, they are called “Eintagsfliegen” which means “one day flies”, as their winged, adult stage is very short – a few hours or a few days as a maximum. Most of their life-time, is spent as a larvae in the water, lasting for one year or more. Most species emerge in synchrony from the aquatic habitat in the summer, creating an incredible natural spectacle as blooms of the insect appear to dance above the river’s surface.

Almost all specimens of a mayfly species tend to leave the water within one or few days, creating huge clouds of swarming insects.  The advantages of this huge, synchronised hatch are obvious: as insects can only mate in their adult stage, by synchronising the hatch,  the chance of finding a partner is maximized – which is very important for species with such a short adult life stage. Predators like bats or birds are surprised by this sudden appearance of clouds of prey, and so can hunt only a small fraction of the population. The vast majority of mayflies die immediately after mating; in some cases the piles of dead mayflies block roads or bridges and need to be removed with a snow plow!

The swarming of mayflies is particularly impressive in case of large specimens, which used to be extremely abundant in large lowland rivers. Due to widespread pollution most of the large river species disappeared from European rivers in the 20th century but conservation efforts in the last two decades are helping some of them return.

Tisza mayfly (image: Lacitot, http://www.fotototh.gportal.hu/)

However, Europe’s largest mayfly Palingenia longicauda, has managed to retain small but healthy populations around Hungary and northern Serbia.Palingenia specimens are about 4 cm long. They appear to be much larger, as they have up to 8 cm long appendages at their abdomen. The only large population of Palingenia longicauda, which has survived, is based in the Tisza river in Hungary. The species emerges around mid June, and event which is frequently referred to as “Tisza blooming” and is amongst the most fascinating natural phenomena in European rivers.

Tisza bloom (image: The Nature Animals)

This synchronised hatch is one of nature’s great sights, as the surprisingly large insects seem to dance above the river’s surface, smothering the riverbank and any other available surface (including cars, roads and people!) as they seek to find a mate in the short time available to them.  Hundreds of thousands of males fly towards the middle of the river to search for females which hatch at the water surface.  After mating the females may fly several kilometers upstream to compensate for downstream larval drift and laying their eggs along the way.  

And then as suddenly as it began, this fleeting, wonderful natural marvel is over.  Around the end of June the surface of the Tisza is covered with large dead mayflies, spent after their ephemeral existence is over. The larvae resulting from succesful mating grow in holes in the loam of the river bottom for three years, until they hatch and mayfly’s day-long dance is repeated once again.

More information

  • Wonderful gallery of high-resolution photos of the Tisza mayfly here
  • Arkive page here
  • Wild Serbia page on the Tisza mayfly

Arkive footage:

ARKive video - Male Tisza mayflies searching and competing for a female mateARKive video - Tisza mayflies swarming

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: New entry into the Cabinet of Freshwater Curiosities: The Tisza mayfly « The BioFresh blog
  2. biofreshblog
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 12:42:44

    Some fascinating new information from Tomáš Derka at the Department of Ecology, Comenius University, Slovakia on the Tisza mayfly:

    “It is still not generally known among mayfly experts that this species lives also in the Danube delta. This is probably more important (larger) refuge than the Tisza River. It was reported from the Danube delta for the first time by Czech entomologists. In June 2009 when I was at the excursion with some students in the Danube delta, I observed a massive swarming of P. longicauda in Danube arm below the Tulcea town called Canal Mila 36”

    You can view photos of the Danube delta mayflies, courtesy of Tomáš, here:


  3. Trackback: Blooming of the Tisza |

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