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The crane fly is quite possibly one of the most misunderstood of the insect kingdom. Also known as Daddy Long Legs in England and mosquito hawks or mosquito eaters in the US, crane flies are not spiders, mosquitoes or eaters of mosquitoes. The scientific name of the crane fly is Tipula, and it belongs to the order Diptera. There are many different species of crane fly, but they are difficult to distinguish.
The crane fly is characterized by its six extremely long, skinny legs, which look like the legs of a Daddy Long Legs spider. Their legs can be nearly twice the length of their body and are very fragile. Even the most careful handling can result in the detachment of a leg. This is a beneficial characteristic, as crane flies frequently fall prey to many animals. Their long legs, wings and mouthpiece lead many causal observers to believe that they are giant mosquitoes.
The crane fly is tan to grayish brown, grows up to two and a half inches (6.35 centimeters), and has an approximate three inch (7.62 centimeters) wingspan. Its rather cumbersome body and legs make it a slow moving fly. While crane flies may be a nuisance inside a home, they are harmless.
Crane flies tend to live in wooded areas and open fields, but they can live nearly anywhere, including snowy northern climates and desert lands. In order for their eggs to hatch and larvae to grow into adults, they require either water or damp, decaying material in which to lay their eggs, depending on the species. Crane fly larvae and pupae can be found in damp sod or compost piles, or under the decomposing leaves on the banks of rivers, streams, ponds or lakes.
Crane fly larvae and pupae feed on decomposing material, grass and the roots of many plants. This makes them a beneficial insect, as they assist in the cycle of decomposition. Once they emerge in late winter or early spring as adults, after maturing over the winter, their primary purpose is to mate and lay eggs.
Crane flies only survive a couple of days after emerging from their aquatic or damp nursery. Adult crane flies do not eat, as far as researchers are aware. This dispels the myth that they bite or eat mosquitoes.
As larvae, crane flies fall prey to fish, as well as birds and small mammals. Adult crane flies are also a treat for birds and mammals. For the most part, the insects are completely beneficial. Occasionally, however, an overpopulation of larvae in a lawn or new sod can cause damage to the grass and root system by overfeeding. While the bird population in the area may love the smorgasbord of fat, juicy larvae, your exterminator or law care specialist may have some advice about how to keep crane fly larvae under control.