Do Crane Flies Sting? Debunking the Myth

Crane flies, often mistaken for giant mosquitoes, can be a cause for concern when they invade our homes and gardens. Many people worry about whether these insects pose a threat, specifically if they can sting or not. The good news is that crane flies do not sting or bite humans, as mentioned by the OSU Extension Catalog. They are harmless creatures that mostly feed on nectar or do not feed at all during their adult stage.

Although they appear to be similar to mosquitoes in appearance, crane flies belong to the Tipulidae insect family and differ in many ways. Aspects of their life cycle and purpose in the ecosystem are quite distinct from mosquitoes. A key characteristic is that adult crane flies have a very short life span, usually only one to two weeks AgriLife Today.

In summary, there is no need to worry about crane flies stinging or causing harm to humans. These large, gangly insects might be a nuisance if they are found indoors, but they pose no threat. It is important to distinguish them from mosquitoes, which can be vectors for disease, and appreciate the harmless role crane flies play in our environment.

Crane Flies: Basic Overview

Crane Fly Description

Crane flies, members of the family Tipulidae, are slender, long-legged insects often mistaken for mosquitoes ^(1^). Some features of crane flies include:

  • Varying sizes, ranging from tiny to almost 1.2 inches long
  • Slender mosquito-like bodies and long legs
  • Slow-flying, commonly found close to water

Adult crane flies have a very short lifespan, typically one to two weeks ^(2^).

Crane Flies vs Mosquitoes

While similar in appearance, crane flies and mosquitoes have distinct differences. Here’s a comparison table to highlight key differences:

Feature Crane Flies Mosquitoes
Wingspan Generally larger Smaller
Antennae Longer and smoother Shorter, feathery
Feeding habits Adults do not feed Feed on blood
Potential harm Harmless to humans Transmit diseases

Crane flies do not feed on blood and are harmless to humans, while mosquitoes feed on blood and can transmit diseases ^(3^).

Mosquito Hawks: A Misnomer

Crane flies are sometimes called “mosquito hawks.” However, they do not prey on mosquitoes. The nickname is misleading, as the adult crane flies do not feed and are not known to attack mosquitoes ^(4^).

Why Crane Flies Don’t Sting

Lack of Stinger

Crane flies are often mistaken for large mosquitoes due to their appearance. However, these insects are quite different when it comes to stinging. Unlike mosquitoes, crane flies don’t have a stinger, rendering them incapable of stinging people or animals.

Mouthparts and Feeding Habits

The feeding habits of crane flies also contribute to their harmless nature. Instead of seeking blood like mosquitoes, adult crane flies primarily feed on plant nectar1. Their mouthparts are designed for this purpose, making them unsuitable for biting. Here’s a comparison between crane flies and mosquitoes:

Crane Flies Mosquitoes
Stinger No Yes
Feeding Plant nectar Blood (females) & nectar
Bite No Yes (females)
Harmful No Yes (disease transmission)

In summary, crane flies:

  • Are harmless
  • Don’t have a stinger
  • Possess mouthparts suited for feeding on plant nectar
  • Don’t bite humans or animals

Their lack of a stinger and mouthparts designed for nectar feeding makes crane flies incapable of stinging, unlike their mosquito counterparts.

Life Cycle and Habitat of Crane Flies

Larval Stage: Leatherjackets

Crane fly larvae, commonly known as leatherjackets, primarily feed on roots, stems, and leaves. They tend to cause the most damage in cool, wet springs.

Characteristics of leatherjackets:

  • Small and brown when newly hatched
  • Mature larvae are 1-1.25 inches long

Pupate and Adult Stage

Crane flies pupate in moist soil and don’t feed during this stage.

Adult crane fly features:

  • Approximately 0.5 inches long
  • Long, slender body
  • Two functional wings
  • Long, gangly legs

Adult crane flies are often mistaken for mosquitoes but don’t bite or sting.

Common Habitats

A wide range of habitats, from grassy areas to water bodies, can support crane flies. Decaying organic matter and moist soils are essential for their life cycle.

Habitat examples:

  • Lawns
  • Gardens
  • Pastures
  • Meadows

Table: Crane Flies vs. Mosquitoes

Crane Flies Mosquitoes
Appearance Long legs, slender body Small, slender body
Feeding Larval stage: roots, stems Adult stage: blood
Stinging No Yes
Wings Two functional wings Two functional wings

In the ecosystem, crane flies play an essential role as food for various birds and animals. Their larvae help decompose organic materials in their habitats.

Crane Flies in Texas

Field Guide to Common Texas Insects

Crane flies are large, tan-colored, fragile flies with long legs that belong to the Tipulidae insect family. In Texas, they usually appear in droves during fall and spring. While they resemble mosquitoes, they do not bite or sting. Crane flies are often mistaken for mosquitoes due to their similar appearance.

Here are some characteristics of crane flies:

  • Large, elongated bodies
  • Long, slender legs
  • Tan color
  • Short adult lifespan (1-2 weeks)

Insects in the City Blog Post

Bryant McDowell, an urban integrated pest management specialist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, shared his knowledge on crane flies in a podcast. He clarified common misconceptions and gave insight into their life cycle and behavior.

Some important points from the podcast:

  • Crane flies prefer moist environments
  • They do not feed on mosquitoes
  • Larval stage lasts longer than adult stage

In conclusion, crane flies in Texas are harmless insects often confused with mosquitoes. Their distinct appearance and characteristics make them an interesting part of the state’s diverse insect population.

Crane Fly Species and Evolution

Different Subfamilies

Crane flies belong to the family Tipulidae, and are generally divided into two main subfamilies: Cylindrotominae and Limoniinae. Some key features of these subfamilies include:

  • Cylindrotominae:
    • Shorter antennae
    • Often found in habitats with high humidity
  • Limoniinae:
    • Longer antennae
    • Prevalent in various ecological environments

Some crane flies may also be commonly mistaken for “daddy longlegs,” but they are not related. “Daddy longlegs” typically refers to a group of arachnids called harvestmen.

Evolutionary History

Crane flies have a long evolutionary history, dating back to the Barremian stage of the Early Cretaceous period. Fossil records indicate the presence of crane flies during this time, which further highlights their resilience as a species.

There are approximately 15,000 species of crane flies worldwide, including the well-known Holorusia. This incredible diversity showcases their adaptability to different ecological habitats.

Subfamily Antennae Length Ecology
Cylindrotominae Short High humidity
Limoniinae Long Various habitats

In conclusion, understanding the subfamilies and evolutionary history of crane flies can provide a better perspective on their prevalence and biology. From intricate features to their remarkable diversity, these fascinating insects continue to evolve and adapt to their environments.

Crane Flies and Pest Management

Damage

Crane flies, members of the Tipulidae insect family, might look like mosquitoes but don’t cause harm to humans or pets. They may, however, damage grass and lawns during their larval stage. Marsh crane flies have a particular impact on lawns, as they can have multiple generations in a year. Damage affects grass roots and can cause lawn patches as a result.

Prevention

A few preventive steps can help safeguard your lawn from crane fly damage:

  • Maintain proper lawn health by watering and fertilizing appropriately.
  • Keep grass well-drained to discourage larvae from settling in the soil.
  • Use window screens to keep adult crane flies out of your home.

For example, robot vacuums won’t help against crane flies, but can aid with pest control for other small bugs.

Control Methods

Managing crane fly infestations is vital to saving your lawn:

  • Regular monitoring helps you detect larvae early and minimize damage to the grass.
  • Biological control using nematodes can help reduce the larval population in the soil.

Remember, crane flies are attracted to lights, so turning off outdoor lighting may help keep them away from your home. Overall, it’s essential to combine preventive measures and control methods to manage crane fly infestations.

Control Method Pros Cons
Monitoring Early detection Time-consuming
Biological Control Environmentally friendly Requires care in application

Crane Fly Predators and Ecological Benefits

Predator Examples

Crane flies serve as a food source for various predators:

  • Birds
  • Wasps
  • Predaceous ground beetles

When it comes to wasps, some species, like the wasp, specifically target crane flies as vital nourishment for their young.

Benefits in the Ecosystem

Crane flies play an essential role in the ecosystem. Dr. Chen Young, a crane fly expert from Washington State University, highlights the importance of crane flies in maintaining ecological balance.

Some of their benefits include:

  • Acting as pollinators due to their dependence on plant nectar
  • Serving as decomposers by breaking down organic material during their larval stage
Birds Wasps Predaceous Ground Beetles
Prey on Crane Flies

In summary, crane flies contribute to the ecosystem by serving as a food source for predators and playing essential roles such as pollination and decomposition.

Footnotes

  1. Crane Flies – University of California

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 – Crane Fly

 

Mosquito Catcher?
Location: Central Lake, Michigan
July 3, 2011 9:32 am
Hi!
Looove your site, and your helpfulness! I have today, three photos of what my mother always called a ”mostquito catcher”. I was hoping that you would be able to tell me what this bug is (or if she was correct). And if you know if they can bite/harm people. I have a close up of the body, a view of the top, and a side view for you (s/he was a great model, lol). This insect has very long legs, and is about the size of my palm. Thanks in advance for your wonderful help!
Signature: Mom in Michigan

Crane Fly

Dear Mom in Michigan,
This is a Crane Fly and they do not prey upon mosquitos.  We have also heard them called Mosquito Hawks.  Crane Flies do not bite.

Thank you so much! How interesting! I really appreciate you taking time to let me know!

Letter 2 – Crane Fly

 

unknown insect/creechie
bugman,
shot this pic back in late august 07. resting on a geranium leaf. don’t know what it is. after looking at your site it has some features of the rove beetle from cameroon. yet this one has wings and was found in West Michigan, US. any ideas? great site. regards,
thomas

Hi Thomas,
This is a Crane Fly, most probably a female Ctenophora dorsalis, a highly variable species, or a species in the same genus.

Letter 3 – Crane Fly

 

High altitude oddity
Location:  Mt. Mitchell, North Carolina, USA
July 29, 2010 8:19 am
Hi there!
I took this photo on Jult 10th, 2010 at about 4500 ft elevation near Mt Mitchell, NC, USA on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The closest ID I have is possibly some kind of thread-waisted wasp, but the antenna are feathered like a moth’s would be. It appears to be missing 2 legs on the left side, but otherwise seemed in good shape. Any idea what this may be?
Tony Murray

Crane Fly

Hi Tony,
This is a Crane Fly, and judging by his pectinate antennae, we believe he is a male.  He seems to resemble the image of
Ctenophora apicata that is posted on the Crane Flies of Pennsylvania website.  We are going to copy Dr. Chen Young who may be able to provide an identification for us, and we suspect he may request permission to post your image to his comprehensive website as well.

Confirmation from Dr. Chen Young
Hi Daniel,
You are getting better in identifying crane flies.  Yes, it is a male Ctenophora apicata.
Chen

Letter 4 – Crane Fly

 

Wedding Bug
Location: Somerset, Pennsylvania
November 17, 2010 4:02 pm
Hi,
I recently was a bridesmaid in a wedding in rural Pennsylvania. The bridal party stayed at a cabin in the woods, and this bug resided on the mirror in the bathroom throughout the weekend. It never, ever moved. We weren’t even sure it was real until a well-intentioned boy ”disposed” of it for us ”girls” because he was sure that we hadn’t seen it, and if we had, we would have ”freaked out.” Unfortunately, the wedding bug is gone, but I’d love to know what it was!
Signature: Amanda

Crane Fly

Hi Amanda,
The uninvited guest to the wedding is a Crane Fly, a harmless insect that is sometimes mistaken for a large mosquito and is also erroneously called a Mosquito Hawk by folks who believe they prey upon mosquitoes.

Letter 5 – Crane Fly

 

What’s his name?
Location: San Ramon, CA
May 10, 2011 9:10 am
May 7, 2011
San Francisco Bay Area (San Ramon, CA)
Thank you very much for your wonderful work and this amazing website. Inspiring!
There is a cheery tree in the backyard that is severely infested with black aphids, thousands and thousands of them. To stop the ants from making things worse, I wrapped the trunk with Tangelfoot. With ants gone, there is a beneficial insects lovefest on that tree. There are hundreds and hundreds of lady and soldier beetles all over the tree, eating aphids, mating and laying eggs.
Yesterday we had 25mph winds and the bugs were keeping a low profile, except for this long legged fellow. He had spread out on a leaf and was content going for a roller-coaster ride on a shaky branch. What’s his name?
Signature: Max

Crane Fly

Hi Max,
We are happy to hear that with a little assistance, nature is taking care of your Aphid problem organically.  This is a Crane Fly, and despite looking like a very large Mosquito, it is perfectly harmless.

Letter 6 – Crane Fly

 

Subject: What’s this flying insect?
Location: Northeast PA
May 21, 2012 11:56 am
My children and I were sitting in our suburban Northeast PA back yard at around 7pm last night (5-20-12) This pictured insect flew on my daughter, and after shewing it away, it landed on the grass. It stayed still long enough to get a photo, and then flew off. Can you identify it?
Signature: Joyce Ravinskas

Crane Fly

Hi Joyce,
We have identified your harmless Crane Fly as
Ctenophora dorsalis using both BugGuide and the Crane Flies of Pennsylvania websites.

Letter 7 – Crane Fly

 

Subject: weird insect
Location: Pandora, Ohio
June 3, 2012 1:03 pm
I was outside looking for ant colonies and I was moving a rock almost failed to notice this weird looking wasp or well maybe just a flying insect. It was all black except for a strip of red in the middle.
The thing that caught me off guard was it’s 1/2 – Inch long blade attached to it’s abdomen. I doubt it could retract this kind of blade, so figured it’s always sticking out.
Sorry picture is not the greatest as he decided to fly away and I backed away to avoid him.
Signature: Brady Blankemeyer

Crane Fly

Hi Brandy,
Despite the extreme blurriness of your photo, we had no trouble identifying your insect as
Ctenophora dorsalis, a harmless Crane Fly.  We are visiting Ohio for a week and we are scheduling your identification request to post live to our site during our absence.

Letter 8 – Crane Fly

 

Subject: Green Crane Fly?
Location: Massachusetts
June 15, 2012 12:39 pm
I found this insect buzzing around some hemlock trees. It looks like a crane fly, but I have never seen one with a pale green body before, or with those markings on the thorax. What species is it?
Signature: Denny P

Cranefly

Dear Denny,
We agree that this is a Crane Fly, but we cannot tell you the species without extensive research.  Since we have been away from the office for a week, we have hundreds of emails to sift through.  You can try to self identify this Crane Fly on the Crane Flies of Pennsylvania website.  We have sent an email to Chen Young to see if he can offer assistance.

On Jun 16, 2012, at 1:41 AM, Young, Chen wrote:
Hi Daniel,
A female Nephrotoma virescens.  http://iz.carnegiemnh.org/cranefly/tipulinae.htm#Nephrotoma_virescens
Chen

Thanks Chen.  Viricens, How green is that?

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.

2 thoughts on “Do Crane Flies Sting? Debunking the Myth”

  1. i found one like this in East London a couple days ago.. the picture i sent in wasnt that clear but i did try to explain it

    Where are these bugs usually found?

    Reply

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