The burrowing polymitarcyid mayfly Ephoron shigae is a geographically parthenogenetic species. Interestingly, the distributions of the bisexual and unisexual populations overlap broadly in their respective geographic ranges. In this mayfly, obligatory diploid thelytoky appears within unisexual populations. In the present study, we examined the potential for parthenogenesis or the parthenogenetic ability of females in a bisexual population aiming to understand the emergence of unisexual populations. The results obtained revealed that females in the examined bisexual populations showed a potential for diploid thelytoky as also seen in the unisexual populations, although, in females from bisexual populations, the development success rates of their unfertilized eggs were considerably lower than those of virgin females from unisexual populations. In the three bisexual reproducing species (Ephemera japonica, Ephemera strigata, and Ephemera orientalis) in the closely-related family Ephemeridae, diploid thelytoky (i.e. tychoparthenogenesis; < 3%) was also observed. However, in this case, the parthenogenetic development success rates of unfertilized eggs were significantly lower than those of virgin females in the bisexual (Hino-yosui Irrigation Canal) population of E. shigae. Accordingly, we suggest that parthenogenetic ability (i.e. tychoparthenogenesis or facultative parthenogenesis) in bisexual populations of E. shigae may facilitate the evolutionary transition to unisexual populations with fully obligatory parthenogenesis. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 99, 326–334.