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|Fossil Crane Fly,
Eocene 54.8 to 33.7 million years ago
|Contemporary Crane Fly|
“Look at the size of that mosquito!” – you’ve likely heard this many times, and maybe you’ve shouted it yourself. The object of your surprise (or terror) might be the Crane Fly. Despite their formidable appearance these are harmless insects, yet Crane Flies have sparked fear in so many people that psychiatrists have a name for their disorder: tipulophobia.
Crane Flies may look like giant mosquitoes but they are actually flies. Crane Flies are found world-wide. Of approximately 4000 species described, North America is home to over 1500 species.
Tipulids are the largest family of flies. The world’s largest Crane Fly grows up to 2½” long with a 3” wingspan. Almost all of them have bodies that are slender, grayish-brown and have legs about twice as long as their bodies.
These flies easily lose their long delicate legs if they are handled. Their legs are not designed for walking, but for hanging from objects such as plant stems and leaves. They have just one pair of wings – the second wings have evolved into a pair of drum-stick shaped organs known as halteres. Halteres function as balancing gyroscopes, and because of their size, you can study these on the Crane Fly. In the photo above you can see the halteres directly behind the wings.
Adult Crane Flies are mostly associated with moist and temperate forests, swamps, marshes, and meadows, and can be found in high latitudes as well as high altitudes. Immature stages are semiaquatic to terrestrial and can be found in such places as moist leaf litter, moss, rotting logs, mud, and sands associated with riverbanks. In many freshwater habitats, especially ponds, streams and floodplains, tipulid larvae play an important role in "shredding" riparian leaf litter, making it available to other species that can feed only on smaller organic particles.
Most adult Crane Flies do not eat, and therefore have no mouth parts. The adult stage of their life lasts only a day or two, and their only purpose is to reproduce.
In England, the Crane Fly is commonly called “daddy longlegs”, and the French call these insects “cousins”. My grandmother called them “gallinippers” – a word of unknown origin meaning “a large mosquito”. Whatever you call them, now you know that you don’t have to run in fear whenever you see one aimlessly flapping around your living room.