The Brine Flies of Salt Lake

When I took my trip out to Utah this summer, I couldn’t resist stopping by the marina of the Great Salt Lake for a bit.  The lake is such a beautiful and seemingly out of place land-locked body of water.  Apparently the waters are too saline to support most aquatic life forms like fish.  But cyanobacteria and brine shrimp thrive here.  There is also one particular insect that does well in this environment – the brine fly.  These flies seen along the water’s edge actually consist of two species, Ephydra cinerea and Ephydra hians from the family Ephydridae.  These tiny flies live most of their lives in the lake as larvae, but complete their metamorphosis in the early summer and emerge onto the shoreline.  The adults live only a few days, but let me tell you, there are millions of individuals living at the Great Salt Lake.

I had no idea that these tiny creatures lived here, so when I stopped by the lake, I walked to the water’s edge.  As I walked down a huge cloud of what appeared to be black dust rose into the air.  The cloud made a distinctive sound as well – the sound that a heavy rainfall makes on your roof.  But the sound was soft, like the raindrops were very tiny.  It took me a while to realize that I was walking amidst thousands and thousands of brine flies and that the black cloud, which moved and seemed to follow me, was alive.

Several people didn’t want to walk near the water because of the brine flies, but the little insects were absolutely harmless.  And I found the black cloud of flies somewhat fascinating.  There was one thing I didn’t enjoy about the brine flies though – their predators.  It makes sense that predators would take advantage of this seemingly endless food supply.  These were also in huge numbers all along the shore:

Shudder.  I’m slightly arachnophobic.  I don’t like to admit it, but when it comes to giant spiders like these all over the place, I can’t help but feel a huge tiny sense of panic.  I tried to overcome and get very close for that photograph.  Even though they are incredibly large and (to me) scary spiders, they’re apparently harmless to people.  Poking around the Internet, it seems these belong to the orb-weaver species Neoscona crucifera.  If you’re ever at the Great Salt Lake in the summertime, make sure to check out the brine flies.  It was a really interesting experience!

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2 thoughts on “The Brine Flies of Salt Lake

  1. Aw, I’m jealous! I really want to see these someday, either in Utah or at Mono Lake! Also, interesting to hear of yet another entomologist who isn’t a big fan of spiders. There are a remarkable number of us who think 6 legs is just fine.

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