Crane Fly vs Mosquito: Uncovering the Differences & Misconceptions

Crane flies and mosquitoes are two distinct insects that are often misunderstood and mistaken for each other. While they may appear similar at first glance, there are important differences between the two that make them easily distinguishable once you know what to look for.

Crane flies, members of the family Tipulidae, are harmless insects with slender bodies and incredibly long legs. Their appearance is similar to that of a mosquito, but they do not bite or transmit diseases. Usually found around water, adult crane flies can range from tiny to almost 1.2 inches long The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension.

On the other hand, mosquitoes belong to the family Culicidae and are considerably smaller than crane flies. They have a more robust body, shorter legs, and are notorious for their biting habits. Female mosquitoes feed on blood to obtain the necessary nutrients for egg production, and can transmit diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and Zika virus.

In summary, crane flies and mosquitoes are two different types of insects with notable distinctions. While they may look similar at first, understanding their characteristics, habits, and potential risks can help you differentiate between them and address any concerns you may have.

Understanding Crane Flies and Mosquitoes

Defining Crane Flies

Crane flies are insects belonging to the family Tipulidae, within the order Diptera. They have a slender, mosquito-like appearance with several key features:

  • Extremely long legs
  • Wing length can vary, sometimes almost 1.2 inches long1
  • Mostly found around water1

Crane flies are harmless insects1, as they do not bite humans or animals. Adult crane flies have short lifespans, usually lasting one to two weeks2. Known as larvae, immature crane flies are small, brown, and legless3.

Defining Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes are small insects from the Culicidae family, also within the order Diptera. They can be characterized by:

  • Shorter legs compared to crane flies
  • Antenna that detect chemical cues to find hosts
  • Members of some species can carry and transmit diseases

Mosquitoes are more than mere nuisances; bites from some species can transmit diseases, like malaria or dengue fever.

Comparison Table of Crane Flies and Mosquitoes

Feature Crane Fly Mosquito
Family Tipulidae4 Culicidae
Order Diptera1 Diptera5
Legs Extremely long1 Shorter
Wings Variable size1 Uniform size
Feeding Habit Harmless1 Some species bite
Associated with water Yes1 Yes
Larval Appearance Small, brown, legless3 Long, wriggling larvae

In summary, crane flies and mosquitoes are both members of the order Diptera and have some similarities in appearance and habitat. However, they differ significantly in leg length, feeding habits, and potential health threats. Understanding these differences can help to better identify and manage each insect group.

Physical Differences

Size and Shape

Crane Fly

  • Size: Tiny to almost 1.2 inches long1
  • Shape: Slender body1

Mosquito

  • Size: Smaller than crane flies
  • Shape: Small and elongated body

Wings and Legs

Crane Fly

  • Wings: One pair held at a 45-degree angle2
  • Legs: Extremely long and fragile1

Mosquito

  • Wings: One pair that overlaps when at rest
  • Legs: Long, but not as long as crane flies

Abdomen and Antennae

Crane Fly

  • Abdomen: Long and slender1
  • Antennae: Short1

Mosquito

  • Abdomen: Elongated and segmented
  • Antennae: Long and hairy

Color and Appearance

Crane Fly

  • Color: Varies by species, often brown or gray1
  • Appearance: Resemble giant mosquitoes1

Mosquito

  • Color: Typically brown or black
  • Appearance: Small flying insects

Comparison Table

Feature Crane Fly Mosquito
Size Tiny to 1.2 in Smaller than crane flies
Shape Slender body Small, elongated body
Wings One pair, held at 45°2 One pair, overlapping
Legs Extremely long and fragile1 Long, but not as extreme
Abdomen Long and slender1 Elongated and segmented
Antennae Short1 Long and hairy
Color Varies, often brown/gray1 Typically brown or black
Appearance Resemble giant mosquitoes1 Small flying insects

Feeding and Diet

What Crane Flies Eat

Crane flies are insects that primarily feed on plant matter in their adult and larval stages. Adult crane flies consume nectar from flowers, while their larvae, known as leatherjackets, typically feed on decaying plant material and occasionally on living plant roots.

Some species of crane fly larvae are known to cause damage in lawns and turfgrass areas, as they feed on shoots, crowns, and roots, resulting in weakened plants and dead patches of grass.

What Mosquitoes Eat

In contrast, mosquitoes have a more varied diet depending on their life stage and gender. Adult female mosquitoes primarily feed on animal blood, including humans, to obtain vital nutrients such as lipids and proteins, required for egg production. Examples of common mosquito food sources include:

  • Human blood
  • Bird blood
  • Mammal blood

On the other hand, adult male mosquitoes, as well as females when not seeking a blood meal, primarily consume nectar from flowers for their energy needs.

Mosquito larvae, also called wrigglers, have a different diet altogether, as they mainly feed on algae and microorganisms present in their aquatic environment.

Crane Flies Mosquitoes
Adults Nectar Nectar / Blood
Larvae Plant material/Roots Algae/Microorganisms

In summary, crane flies and mosquitoes have distinct feeding habits throughout their life stages, with crane flies feeding on plant material and nectar, while mosquitoes feed on a combination of nectar, blood, algae, and microorganisms.

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Crane Fly Lifecycle

Crane flies have a simple life cycle, consisting of:

  • Eggs
  • Larva
  • Pupa
  • Adult

Female crane flies lay eggs in moist places, usually near water or on wet grass. The eggs hatch into larvae, which are commonly known as “leatherjackets” due to their tough outer skin. The larvae feed on decaying vegetation or the roots of grasses. Some species of crane fly larvae are predators of other insects, like mosquito larvae.

After developing through several larval stages, they pupate and eventually emerge as adult crane flies. Adult crane flies have a very short lifespan, typically only living long enough to mate. Many adult crane flies do not eat, focusing solely on reproduction.

Mosquito Lifecycle

Mosquitoes have a similar life cycle:

  • Eggs
  • Larva
  • Pupa
  • Adult

Female mosquitoes lay eggs on the surface of standing water, using a specialized structure called an ovipositor. The eggs hatch into larvae, which live in water and feed on organic material.

Mosquito larvae develop through four stages before becoming pupae. Unlike crane fly larvae, mosquito larvae and pupae are both aquatic. Adult mosquitoes emerge from the pupae and take flight.

Feature Crane Fly Mosquito
Eggs In moist places (near water or on wet grass) On standing water
Larvae Terrestrial, feed on decaying vegetation or roots Aquatic, feed on organic material
Pupae In soil Aquatic
Adults Short lifespan, focused on reproduction Feed on blood (females) or nectar (males)

In conclusion, crane flies and mosquitoes have distinct life cycles with different habitats and behaviors. While both lay their eggs in or near water, their larvae and pupae have different feeding habits and environments.

Habitat and Behavior

Crane Fly Habitats

Crane flies are found in a variety of environments, often near water. They lay their eggs in moist soil, where their larvae, also called leatherjackets, develop. Crane fly larvae prefer moist soil with poor drainage, as they feed on the roots and decaying vegetation in the area. Adult crane flies can be found flying around yards, flowers, and other plants, but they do not bite or sting. To discourage crane flies in your yard, you can improve soil aeration and drainage, which will make it less hospitable for their larvae.

Mosquito Habitats

Mosquitoes have different habitat preferences depending on the species. They lay their eggs in stagnant water, such as that found in flowerpots, birdbaths, or indoor drains. Mosquito larvae need water to survive, so eliminating standing water in your environment can help reduce their populations. Adult mosquitoes are more active during dusk and dawn, as they search for a blood meal. They’re attracted to the carbon dioxide that humans and other animals exhale, as well as body odor and heat. Mosquitoes can transmit a variety of diseases, so it’s important to protect yourself by using repellents and preventing them from breeding near your home.

Comparison Table: Crane Fly vs Mosquito
Feature Crane Fly Mosquito
Habitat Moist soil Stagnant water
Adult food source Nectar (some species do not eat at all) Blood (females), nectar (males)
Larval food source Roots, decaying vegetation Organic matter and microscopic organisms in water
Disease transmission None Yes (e.g. malaria, dengue, Zika)
Bite/ sting No Yes (only female mosquitoes)

Threats and Dangers

Are Crane Flies Dangerous?

  • Crane flies, despite their resemblance to mosquitoes, are harmless insects.
  • They do not sting or bite.
  • Adults are usually found around water but pose no threat to humans.

Crane Fly vs Mosquito: Comparison Table

Feature Crane Fly Mosquito
Sting/Bite No Yes
Dangerous to humans No Yes
Disease transmission No Yes
Common habitat Around water Standing water
Itchy reaction No Yes

Are Mosquitoes Dangerous?

  • Mosquitoes are known for their itchy, irritating bites.
  • They can be dangerous and transmit various diseases.

Examples of diseases transmitted by mosquitoes:

  • Malaria
  • Zika
  • Dengue

Mosquito bite consequences:

  • Itchy, red bumps
  • Possible infection from scratching
  • Disease transmission (in some cases)

To summarize, crane flies are harmless insects that do not cause any harm to humans, while mosquitoes can be dangerous due to their bites and potential to transmit diseases.

Predators and Population Control

Natural Predators

Crane flies and mosquitoes have various natural predators that help control their populations. Some common predators include:

  • Birds: Many species of birds feed on both crane flies and mosquitoes.
  • Fish: Mosquito larvae are a primary food source for fish species such as gambusia or mosquitofish.
  • Mammals: Bats are known to consume large numbers of adult mosquitoes.
  • Spiders: Various spider species, like the orb-weaver spider, prey on adult crane flies and mosquitoes.

How to Control Crane Fly and Mosquito Populations

Crane Fly Control:

Proper turfgrass management can substantially reduce the damage caused by the European crane fly1. Some effective methods are:

  • Regular mowing and maintaining grass height to promote healthy growth.
  • Adequate drainage and avoiding overwatering.
  • Timed insecticide applications for extreme infestations1.

Mosquito Control:

Controlling mosquito populations can help reduce the risk of mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, West Nile, and Zika4. Methods include:

  • Eliminating standing water sources, where mosquitoes lay eggs.
  • Applying larvicides to control larvae in water sources.
  • Introducing mosquito-eating fish to water bodies.
  • Using mosquito repellent and protective clothing.

Comparison Table:

Feature Crane Fly Mosquito
Size Larger, up to 2.5 inches Smaller, up to 0.6 inches
Larval Stage Damages lawns and turfgrass Found in standing water
Predators Birds, spiders, and mammals Birds, fish, spiders, and mammals
Pest Control Methods Proper lawn care, insecticides Eliminate standing water, larvicides, repellents

Dealing with Infestations

Crane Fly Infestations

Crane flies, also known as daddy longlegs, can cause significant damage to lawns and pastures by feeding on turfgrass shoots, crowns, and roots. To effectively get rid of crane fly infestations:

  • Proper turfgrass management
  • Timely insecticide applications

Example: In cases of extreme infestations, proper scouting and insecticide applications in early spring can prevent significant turfgrass losses.

Mosquito Infestations

Mosquito infestations can be both a nuisance and a health risk, as some mosquitoes can spread viruses like West Nile or dengue. To manage mosquito infestations effectively:

  • Eliminate standing water
  • Use repellent on skin and clothing
  • Install screens on windows and doors

Example: Applying larvicides to water sources where mosquitoes have been detected can help control their population.

Comparison Table:

Feature Crane Fly Mosquito
Damage Lawns and pastures Bites and disease spread
Primary treatment Turfgrass management Source reduction
Secondary treatment Timely insecticide Repellents and screens
Time of major activity Early spring Warm months

Crane Fly Pros and Cons:

  • Pros: Mostly an aesthetic problem, localized effect
  • Cons: Can damage lawns extensively if not managed

Mosquito Pros and Cons:

  • Pros: Can be controlled with proper efforts
  • Cons: Bites can cause itchiness, potential disease spread

Interesting Facts and Misconceptions

Misconceptions about Crane Flies and Mosquitoes

  • Crane flies are not mosquitoes: They belong to the fly family Tipulidae, while mosquitoes are from the Culicidae family [1].
  • Crane flies are harmless: Unlike female mosquitoes that bite, crane flies do not bite humans or animals.
  • Not all crane flies eat mosquitoes: The term “mosquito eater” is a common misnomer. Many adult crane flies don’t feed at all; they mainly focus on mating [5].

Fascinating Trivia

  • Size difference: Crane flies can range up to 1.2 inches long, much larger than typical mosquitoes [1].
  • Male vs. female mosquitoes: Male mosquitoes feed on flower nectar, while female mosquitoes require blood meals for egg production.
  • Crane fly larvae: Also known as “leatherjackets,” they can be found in moist soil and feed on roots and decaying vegetation [5].

Comparison between Crane Flies and Mosquitoes

Feature Crane Flies Mosquitoes
Family Tipulidae Culicidae
Bite No Female mosquitoes bite
Function of Proboscis Used for feeding on nectar Used for female’s blood feeding
Lifespan Adult crane flies live up to 2 weeks [4] Varies depending on species
Larval habitat Moist soil and decaying vegetation Standing water (e.g., ponds)

Crane Fly Larvae Characteristics (also known as Leatherjackets)

  • Approximately 2-3 inches long [3]
  • Found in moist soil, feeding on roots and decaying vegetation
  • Can be lawn pests, damaging turfgrass [2]

Footnotes

  1. https://extension.arizona.edu/crane-flies 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

  2. https://news.arizona.edu/story/whats-all-crane-flies 2 3

  3. https://education.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/crane-fly-larvae 2

  4. https://agrilifetoday.tamu.edu/2023/03/21/what-are-crane-flies/ 2

  5. https://agsci.colostate.edu/agbio/ipm-pests/crane-flies/

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Unknown French Crane Fly

 

What IS this bug?
Hi
I wonder if you can identify this beastie? We live 30 miles south of Paris in France. I have looked in all my books and on the web but find nothing like it. The only way I can describe it is a cross between a wasp, with thin yellow and black stripes, with a sting, but legs like a Daddy-Long-Legs. From head to sting it was about an inch. I look forward to hearing from you Regards
Anna Mc

Hi Anna,
All we can tell you is that this is some species of Crane Fly in the family Tipulidae , but we do not know the genus, nor species. It resembles our North American genus Ctenophora as pictured on BugGuide.

Letter 2 – Unknown Aquatic Larva a Cranefly Larva

 

Fresh Water Grub, found under a rock in a small stream.
June 1, 2010
We found this fresh water grub in a stream in West Virginia. Pics can be zoomed in quite a bit, they’re high quality.
Robert Piazza
White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia

Cranefly Larva

Dear Robert,
If we didn’t know you had found this in an aquatic environment, we might have identified this as a Botfly Larva.  We just found a photo on BugGuide that looks quite similar.  The problem is that Botfly Larvae are internal parasites, and are not found in aquatic environments.  This is a mystery, and we hope someone can assist in this identification.  We cannot imagine this being anything other than a Fly Larva.

Thanks for your reply, I’ll do some more research and see what I can find. If I learn anything new about it, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Cranefly
Several people provided comments that this is a Cranefly Larva.

Letter 3 – Unknown Crane Fly from Japan is Ctenophora ishiharai

 

What is this flying thing?
July 20, 2009
Found this in the hall of our apartment complex. Thought it was a wasp of some sort until closer inspection. Still not sure though. It’s about 3-5 inches long and flies like a mosquito with its legs down. Not graceful like a dragonfly.
Curious in Japan
Zushi, Kanagawa, Japan

Unknown Crane Fly from Japan
Crane Fly from Japan

Dear Curious,
This is some species of Crane Fly in the infraorder
Tipulomorpha, but beyond that, we will need to seed professional assistance.  The feathered antennae are unusual.

Unknown Crane Fly from Japan
Crane Fly from Japan

Update
Hi Daniel:
I believe the unknown Crane fly (family Tipulidae) is in the subfamily Ctenophorinae and the genus Ctenophora (=Cnemoncosis).  Apparently there are nine representatives of the genus in Japan, but closest match I can find appears to be C. ishiharai. It is a very unusual looking crane fly. Regards.
Karl

Thank you for the help.  The antennae looked like those of several mothes.
Thank you again. My sons are huge bug collectors with a strict rule of not killing anything, even the centipedes that get into the house once in awhile.

 

Letter 4 – Unknown Crane Fly from Parts Unknown

 


you can see this bug i took photo of on this link. Any help i much appriciated 🙂
Bocca

Hi Bocca,
You didn’t provide us with much information here. This is a fly, and appears to be a Crane Fly in the Infraorder Tipulomorpha. Those bushy antennae and the bold coloration are quite distinctive, but since you did not provide us with global coordinates, we cannot do better than Unknown Crane Fly.

thanks for the answer. I’m located in Europe, Serbia, Belgrade

Update: (05/30/2007) From Eric Eaton
” Oh, the unknown crane fly is some other type of phantom crane fly, I am pretty sure. Chen Young, who runs the Crane Flies of Pennsylvania website could tell you for certain. Eric ”

Letter 5 – Unidentified Aquatic Fly

 

Bugging You Again
Hi Daniel. I’ve been seeing the oddest little creatures hatching on my little treks to the Sacramento river to photograph bugs. At first I believed it was a midge. Then, looking closer at its intricate wing veining, I mistook it for a newly hatched stonefly. I ought to know better! Some claim it must be a water strider, but what I’ve read indicates those should have four long legs with an additional two short front legs, where this creature instead has six very long legs. It seems barely able to hold up its head and mostly just drags it alongside! It can fly, though scarcely seems to realize it – perhaps because of its newly hatched state. I did not witness any actually hatching or emerging but suspect they just did because of the rather helpless way they washed about in the current until they could fasten onto a rock to drag themselves up onto. Can you shed any light onto this charming creature’s identity for me? You asked about caddis, damselflies, and dragonfly nymph images when last you wrote and I’m happy to say I’ve gotten off my duff and organized my macroinvertebrates into tidy categories easy to look through. If you need any of them, I would be honored to contribute to the cause. The reorganized galleries are at: http://www.pbase.com/michellemahood/real_bugs
Thanks as always for your help and your advice! Best regards,
Michelle Mahood
Shingletown, California

Hi Again Michelle,
We always love being bugged by you since you have such great stories and photos. We wanted to turn to a more qualified expert with your new critter, so we wrote to Eric Eaton. Here is his response:
“Well, the critter looks like it may be some kind of crane fly, but there are a number of aquatic fly families that could fit the bill. She needs to consult an aquatic entomologist, I think. I’d be hesitant to go out on a limb here. Sorry.”
P. S. Eric speaks very highly of you.

Dear Daniel,
Thanks for replying! If you don’t know and Eric Eaton doesn’t know, I can’t imagine anyone knows! However, maybe some especially learned aquatic entomologist fan of yours who reads your site will pipe up with a species name for my critter. He’s certainly not rare, as there’s a hatch of them regularly where I visit the river to turn over rocks. Thanks so much for trying and for posting my pictures. I love looking at your site and seeing what others have discovered! I’m loving spring and hope you are too!
Best regards,
Michelle
PS If you need ANY insects off my site for yours, please have at ’em!

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

17 thoughts on “Crane Fly vs Mosquito: Uncovering the Differences & Misconceptions”

  1. That looks like some kind of cranefly larva to me. It seems a bit more stout than cranefly larva I have seen, but perhaps it contracted in response to being picked up. They are hard to see in this pic, but it looks like it has the tube-like spiracles near its posterior that craneflies use to breathe (which would mean the cranefly is upside down in this pic).

    Reply
  2. I agree with Vince1 that this is probably a crane fly larva (Tipulidae). They do scrunch up quite a bit when in a defensive posture and most species can retract their heads as well. This one also seems to have partially retracted its posterior end making it difficult to make out some key details. The overall appearance is similar to the subfamily Tipulinae (Bugguide has a very similar image [flipped right side up] at http://bugguide.net/node/view/101432/bgimage). However, Tipulinae larvae have six fleshy lobes surrounding the spiracular disc whereas this one appears to have five. That would put it in the subfamily Limoniinae. The Tipulidae are the largest Diptera (True Fly) family so identification down to genus or species is very difficult. K

    Reply
  3. Hello, I found one of these in my kitchen, didn’t want to touch it as it looked like it had a stinger on the end of its body.I have never saw anything like it before, is it safe?? As I know that crane flies are quiet poisonous?? I asked my dad as he is familiar with bugs but he had never seen a crane fly like this either :/

    Reply
  4. I found that same fly in my house in the conservatory but we live in the Lake District. We picked it up in a glass and checked it out but we have never seen anything like it ?

    Reply
  5. Oooh thanks for this! I currently have one of these in my flat in Montreuil, just outside of Paris, France. I’m guessing since it’s a type of crane fly it wishes me no ill?

    Reply

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