Tisza river project
an artwork by Susan Silas


the dreamlife of mayflies


sights & sounds

summer & winter


ravens & pigeons


old photos


about the artist


© 2013 by Susan Silas

sights & sounds

watch videos:

male molting (duration 00:20)
abandoned skin (duration 01:05)
winter rain (duration 06:11)
mayfly swarm (duration 10:34)
swarm from moving boat (duration 00:42)
fading light (duration 00:15)

The Tisza river is home to the world's largest long tailed mayfly—Palingenia Longicauda. At one time Palingenia Longicauda could be found in many other lowland rivers in Europe but they have disappeared from every one except the Tisza river in Hungary. They emerge from the water in the summer, generally in the last weeks of June for three to four days.

It can take some time for the male mayfly to cast off its final larval coat. When the male emerges on the surface of the water it molts, leaving behind its first larval shell on the water's surface. This first molt floats on the surface and looks oddly like a wheat ear. At this stage the male is considered a "subadult" and it will drift above the water and find its way to the shore, attaching itself to a tiny branch, or blade of grass, or piece of bark, and there over the course of several minutes it will shudder and squirm until its long and delicate wings emerge leaving behind what appears to be a luminous white silken sock in the place where its abdomen has just been. And the sock, despite being abandoned, holds tenaciously to the bark or blade of grass with the emptied out forms of the mayfly's legs. Now he is an adult.

The female molts only once. She stays near the surface of the water and emerges from her larval shell a full fledged adult. Once the mayfly has reached adulthood it no longer has the capacity to eat; the only function of the male adult is to mate with a female and her sole function after that is to lay her eggs.

Unlike birds and other species, there is no mating ritual, call or dance among mayflies. The female is swarmed by males; as many as twenty males will force themselves onto one female. These bands of males descend on the female and attempt to mount her while twirling about in the current, creating the appearance of flowers blooming out of the water and thus the name Tiszavirag (Tisza flower or flowering). These groupings of mayflies move incredibly quickly in the water and it is difficult to focus on them as they leap from place to place, male onto female. They can skim along the water at incredible speeds on their long forked tails and they can fly and leap long distances.

As the anthropomorphizing human watching this spectacle, it is hard to tell if this is nature's biggest gang bang, a raucous and feisty celebration of sex or just the biological imperative; genes driven to reproduce themselves at all costs.



Tiszavirag, summer 2011