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Mysterious ‘nasty’ creatures swarm over gas station

It was a mystery of biblical proportions. Swarming insects descended on the Shell station on Halifax Road Sunday night, and no one seemed to know what the strange creatures were or why they suddenly appeared when the sun went down.

“I had never seen them before,” said Assistant Manager Neva Hall who described the insects as “nasty.”

She said one customer came in that night and told her the strange insects may be river bugs, while another customer reported the same strange insects were swarming around the Dan River bridge going into Riverdale causing her to have to use her car’s windshield wipers.

When Hall returned to work Monday morning, she said the lot was littered with the dead insects that had swarmed over the gas station the night before.

The assistant manager said she swept away more than 1,000 bugs, still having absolutely no idea what these annoying insects were, where they came from or why they plagued the Shell station Sunday evening.

Program Assistant of Natural Resources for the Virginia Cooperative Extension Bill McCaleb had an idea though.

The strange insects are mayflies, he said.

Although he was able to identify them, the program assistant said he was very confused as to why they would be out this time of year since they usually hatch in May.

These particular flies hang around water like rivers and creeks and lay their eggs on low-lying branches.

McCaleb said he is puzzled why they chose the Shell Station since the closest bodies of water to the gas station are the channels behind Lowe’s home improvement store.

He wagered a guess that this rare occurrence may be due to the rivers having been relatively high this year, so the eggs may have been submerged under water preventing them from hatching.

When the waters receded this month, the eggs must have hatched releasing these insects into the atmosphere. 

Since mayflies are attracted to light, the bright fluorescent lights at the gas station may be what is attracting these flies.

McCaleb said normally the flies hatch and stay around rivers, creeks or ponds laying their eggs. Afterward, they fall into the water where they are eaten by fish.

He said usually by July and August, the river has gone down. But since there has been more rainfall than usual this year along with cooler weather, they may have gotten a later start.

According to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, mayflies are common aquatic insects that generally go unnoticed. Occasionally, large numbers of adults emerge during certain times of year and are sometimes abundant enough to be a nuisance; most problem situations occur when they are attracted to electric lights at night.  

They are medically harmless.  

Immature mayflies are an important food source for fish. Many lures and artificial flies are patterned after them, according to AgriLife Extension.