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April 2011 cover image Paddle On!

Wild Thing: Fly Guy

Despite similarities, crane flies are neither mosquitoes nor mosquito hawks.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Skeeter eaters, they’re not. But spindly legged crane flies do resemble gigantic versions of the biting insect we love to hate. So much, in fact, that a lot of folks can’t stand crane flies either, especially in their homes.

But before swatting the next one you see, consider this: Crane flies can’t bite. What’s more, these true flies (because they have one pair of wings) rarely eat and live only long enough to mate and lay eggs. In an ecosystem, they quite often turn into dinner for birds, spiders, frogs, lizards and even carnivorous plants.

Many crane fly species occur across Texas. Adults emerge in early spring and live two weeks at most. During flight, a knobbed filament behind each veined wing vibrates to keep the insect balanced and steady. Many flies, including houseflies, have a pair of these halteres instead of hind wings.

Tipula larvae dine on leaf litter and other moist decaying matter, where they also hide. In the garden and lawn, they’re harmless. However, in far northeastern states and into Canada, the larvae of several crane fly species (including two non-natives) cause extensive damage to crops and turf grasses. FYI: Crane flies aren’t “mosquito hawks” either. That common name refers to dragonflies, which do eat mosquitoes.


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