Insects' cuticles have a potential to be evaluated as a chitin source. Especially adults of aquatic insects like mayflies (order Ephemeroptera) swarm in enormous numbers in artificially lit areas while mating in spring and then die by leaving huge amounts of dead insects' bodies. Here in this study, mayfly corpses were harvested and used for production of low MW chitosan. Dried mayfly bodies had 10.21% chitin content; mayfly chitin was converted into chitosan with efficiency rate of 78.43% (deacetylation degree, 84.3%; MW, 3.69 kDa). Cytotoxicity and anti-proliferative activity of mayfly and commercially available shrimp chitosans (low, medium, and high MW) were determined on L929 fibroblast and three different cancer types including HeLa, A549, and WiDr. Apoptosis and necrosis stimulating potential of mayfly and commercial chitosans were also evaluated on A549 and WiDr cells using acridine orange and propidium iodide dual staining to observe morphological changes in nuclei and thus to reveal the predominant cell death mechanism. The effects of chitosans have varied depending on cell types, concentration, and chitosan derivatives. Mayfly and low MW chitosans had a cytotoxic effect at a concentration of 500 mu g mL(-1) on non-cancer cells. At concentrations below this value (250 mu g mL(-1)), mayfly and commercial chitosans except high MW one exhibited strong inhibitory activity on cancer cells especially A549 and WiDr cells. Mayfly chitosan induced early and late apoptosis in A549 cells, but late apoptosis and necrosis in WiDr cells. This study suggests that dead bodies of mayflies can be used for production of low MW chitosan with anti-proliferative activity.