Today, in Southeast Texas, I saw my first crane fly of the year! Soon there will be many more. As the weather warms up, crane flies will be found farther and farther northward.
Very soon now, pest control operators and county extension agents will be bombarded with calls about those “giant mosquitoes” flying around homes and meadows. Those “giant mosquitoes” are not mosquitoes but crane flies.
The name crane flies comes from their long legs and their slow, awkward flight. Crane flies belong to the insect order Diptera. Like all true flies, crane flies have only two wings. There are more than 1,500 species of crane flies in the U.S. and Canada. They range in size from ¼ inch to 1½ inches in length and some have a wingspan of 3 inches.
Adult crane flies are very delicate and even when handled very carefully they usually loose some legs or antennae. They have an elongate and slender body. Their wings are also long and narrow. Their color ranges from gray, to almost black or drab brown. Most are mottled or “splotchy”. Immature crane flies, or larvae, are called “leatherjackets”. They are legless, elongate and slim.
Crane flies are found in humid areas, often around lakes and streams. The larvae are mostly found in the soil. A few are found in water. Most feed on decaying organic matter but a few will feed on living plant roots. Only a few species may be considered as pests. These have been found damaging lawns, grasses and some crops.
Adult crane flies live only a few days. Most do not feed in the adult stage but a few have been found to feed on plant nectar. Crane flies may be found in large numbers around lights at night. Walking through tall weeds or grass, you can often flush dozens or even hundreds that skip along in front of you, taking off and landing in short erratic flights.
Watch for these interesting insects. They are a sign that spring is fast approaching.