Crane flies can be a nuisance in gardens, lawns, and outdoor spaces due to their incessant presence around lights, windows, and plants. Getting rid of them naturally is an eco-friendly and healthy approach to protecting your green spaces from damage.
There are numerous natural methods for controlling and eradicating crane flies, making it easier to choose the best option for your space. With the right techniques in place, you’ll be able to enjoy your outdoor areas in peace and without unwanted guests.
Understanding Crane Flies
Life Cycle and Habitat
Crane flies, belonging to the fly family Tipulidae, are often mistaken for mosquitoes due to their long legs and slim bodies. Adult crane flies can have a wingspan of up to two inches, making them much larger than mosquitoes1. Their life cycle consists of four stages:
- Eggs: Laid in moist soil or water habitats
- Larvae: Appear worm-like, approximately 2-3 inches long, and feed on decomposing organic matter
- Pupa: Gray to brown, roughly 1 inch long, and do not feed
- Adult: Long legs, wings, and antennaed, clumsily flying insects with a length of about 0.5 inches2
Adult crane flies are most commonly found around water sources, whereas their larvae live in soil, especially lawns3.
Crane Fly Damage
While adult crane flies are harmless and typically don’t cause damage, their larvae are known to create problems for lawns. Crane fly larvae chew through patches of grass, damaging the roots and affecting the overall growth in spring4. To prevent crane fly damage, consider implementing regular lawn maintenance and appropriate irrigation practices5.
Crane Fly vs. Mosquito:
|Size||0.5 inches long, 2-inch wingspan1||Smaller than crane flies|
|Legs||Long legs2||Shorter legs|
|Larvae||Live in soil3||Live in water|
|Adult habitat||Around water sources3||Various habitats, often near humans|
Natural Predators and Control Measures
Using Birds to Control Crane Flies
Birds are natural predators of crane fly larvae, helping to control their population in North America. Attracting birds to your garden can reduce the number of larvae, leading to fewer adults.
- Bird feeders: Provide bird feeders with a variety of seed types suitable for different birds.
- Bird baths: Install bird baths to offer fresh water and attract more bird species.
- Birdhouses: Set up birdhouses to encourage nesting and establish a permanent avian presence.
Introducing beneficial and predatory insects can also help manage crane fly populations by preying on the larvae. Here are two examples:
- Predatory beetles: They feed on crane fly larvae, providing a natural and chemical-free method of control.
- Others: Some other insect species also target crane fly larvae, preventing damage to your lawn.
Consider the following pros and cons of using natural predators:
|Chemical-free and environmentally friendly||May not eliminate the entire population|
|No damage to lawns from chemical use||Takes time to establish predator presence|
By employing these natural techniques, you can reduce crane fly populations without resorting to harmful chemicals or difficult practices.
Preventive Lawn Care Techniques
Promoting Adequate Drainage
One of the keys to preventing crane fly infestations is to ensure that your lawn has adequate drainage. This helps in two ways:
- Less standing water: Crane flies are attracted to wet areas, and having proper drainage prevents their larvae from thriving.
- Healthy roots: Good drainage promotes healthy plant roots, which can better withstand crane fly damage.
To encourage adequate drainage, follow these tips:
- Aerate your lawn in early fall to reduce soil compaction and improve water penetration.
- Install a French drain or other drainage system if your lawn is prone to heavy water accumulation.
- Use a well-draining soil mix when establishing a new lawn or overseeding existing turf.
Encouraging a Healthy Lawn
A healthy lawn is more resistant to crane fly damage and can recover from the harmful effects of crane fly larvae feeding on plant roots. Here are some measures to maintain lawn health:
- Mow regularly: Mowing at the right height encourages dense turf growth and helps prevent brown patches. Aim for a mowing height of 3-4 inches and never remove more than 1/3 of the grass blade at once.
- Fertilize: Apply fertilizer in late summer and early fall to strengthen grass roots and prepare your lawn for winter dormancy.
- Irrigate: Water your lawn deeply but infrequently, about 1 inch per week in the growing season. This allows the grass to develop deep root systems while discouraging shallow-rooted weeds.
By addressing the underlying issues of poor drainage and unhealthy lawns, you can naturally prevent crane fly infestations without resorting to chemical control methods. Employ these preventive lawn care techniques to protect your lawn from damage caused by crane flies.
Natural Remedies and Alternatives to Chemicals
Using Neem Oil or Insecticidal Soap
To naturally get rid of crane flies, consider using neem oil or insecticidal soap as a safer alternative to harmful chemicals. Here is a simple comparison of the two methods:
|Neem Oil||Insecticidal Soap|
|Made from neem tree seeds||Made from potassium salts|
|Has systemic effects||Contact insecticide|
|Safe for beneficial insects||May harm some beneficial insects|
Both are effective at controlling crane fly larvae without using dangerous chemicals like imidacloprid or pyrethroid-based insecticides.
When applying either neem oil or insecticidal soap, make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the best results.
Homemade Garlic Spray
Another natural remedy to get rid of crane flies is to create a homemade garlic spray. Here is a simple recipe:
- Crush or blend 10-15 garlic cloves.
- Mix the crushed garlic with 1 gallon of water.
- Let the mixture sit overnight.
- Strain it and pour into a spray bottle.
Spray the mixture around your garden or onto plants that are affected by crane flies.
Some advantages and disadvantages of this method include:
- Non-toxic and safe for the environment
- Inexpensive, using readily available ingredients
- Can harm some beneficial insects
- May not be as effective as commercial products
By using these natural remedies, you can control crane flies while avoiding harmful pesticides and chemicals. Just remember to apply the treatments regularly and consistently for the best results.
Discouraging Crane Fly Infestations
Removing Excess Moisture and Debris
Crane fly larvae, also known as marsh crane fly, thrive in wet soil and damp environments. To prevent infestations, try:
- Proper watering: Avoid overwatering your lawn and allow it to dry between waterings, especially during the larvae’s active period in early spring.
- Drainage improvement: Assess and improve your lawn’s drainage system to prevent standing water which can attract crane flies.
Regularly removing debris, such as fallen leaves and grass clippings, can also discourage adult crane flies from laying their eggs.
Monitoring Crane Fly Numbers
To prevent and control larvae damage, it’s crucial to monitor crane fly numbers in your lawn. One method of monitoring is by:
- Scouting: In late winter or early spring, scout your lawn for crane fly larvae by examining the soil. Look for the presence of the 2-3 inches long, legless maggots.
By identifying a potential infestation early, you can take appropriate measures to reduce their numbers and minimize damage to your lawn’s ecosystem.
|Marsh Crane Fly||Adult Crane Fly|
|Habitat||Wet soil||Around water|
|Key management||Moisture control||Debris removal|
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 – Phantom Crane Fly
A bug I found in Maine.
Location: Andover, Maine
July 10, 2011 6:19 pm
Hi my name is Sara from Andover, Maine. When I was out for a ride with my friend we found a bug on the windsheild. It has five legs, slim torso, black and white legs and wing. I am only a 13 year old so I am really curious on this topic.
Signature: Sara .A.
This is a Phantom Crane Fly. It’s phantom status refers to its coloration and its manner of flight. When it is flying through dappled lighting conditions, it appears to vanish and reappear. Its long legs, a characteristic of the family, is referred to in the common family name Crane Fly. Crane flies frequently lose legs, and a normal Phantom Crane Fly, or any insect for that matter, should have six legs.
Thank you for answering. It was really kool to see the answer to what bug it was.
Letter 2 – Phantom Crane Fly
strange flying creature
You have a great website, it’s helped me identify some critters in my area already.
If you have time to check this one out, I’d be grateful. I live in southeast Pennsylvania and this past July I was hiking at a State park and came across two of these in the woods. I’ve never seen them before. I tried searching your website but I’m not even sure what insect family they’re in. They were about an inch long and the strangest thing I observed was how they flew. They seemed to just float and were almost vertical as they moved slowly thru the air. The one in the photo drifted toward a plant and just sort of hung onto it when I took the picture. Thanks for any help,
What a positively gorgeous image of a Phantom Crane Fly, Bittacomorpha clavipes. As we are still trying to transition to our new format, we are not posting live, but your image will be on the web as soon as our transition is complete.
Letter 3 – Phantom Crane Fly
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
August 27, 2010 11:51 am
This insect was seen flying in jewelweed beside a marshy area. It can be seen quite well in the photos, however, when in flight, this fragile bug is very difficult to focus on given how transparent it is. It was first spotted in July & was still in evidence in early August. We started to refer to these little creatures as ”the fairies” due to their ethereal appearance.
It is believed that the markings and coloration of the Phantom Crane Fly enable it to avoid predation as it seems to disappear and reappear as it feebly flies through the sun dappled habitat it prefers.
Thank you so much for this information. We were all quite intrigued by this dear little fellow and it’s kind of fun to be able to put a name to him.
Your prompt response is very much appreciated.
Letter 4 – Phantom Crane Fly
Coolest flying insect in Minnesota-please help identify
I live in Chaska Minnesota which is 20 minutes southwest of Minneapolis. I found this cool looking bug by my doorstep this evening and wondered if you could help me identify it. The bug body is about 1.5 centimeters long and is an iridescent grey/silver color. the body is three segments, head, a spherical middle and a long end section. He has a pair of clear winds that are about 0.75 centimeters long. The coolest part about the bug is that he has really long legs. The legs are mostly black but at the joints are white stripes. As well the second section from the white foot is thicker than the rest of the leg. It can fly. I’ve added a couple pictures I took with my dad. Hope you can tell me what it is Thanks in advance
The Phantom Crane Fly, Bittacomorpha clavipes, is an awesome creature. It is found near moist woods and stream margins. They soar slowly through the air catching air currents on the swollen leg joints. They get their common name because when they fly into the shade, they seem to disappear except for the white leg bands.
Letter 5 – Phantom Crane Fly
Can’t Find This Bug Anywhere!!
Thu, May 21, 2009 at 8:05 AM
A friend of mine and I were in the parking lot of PetCo, and this not-so-little flier landed on my friends shirt. We thought it looked pretty interesting, so we snapped a few pics with our cell phones(which is the photo isn’t the best) I have looked all over the internet and in all of my field guides and I can not for the life of me identify this one. Any ideas? Thanks!
Upstate NY, Watertown
The Phantom Crane Fly, Bittacomorpha clavipes, is a fascinating looking creature. We believe the coloration helps them to appear to vanish and reappear while flying, hence the name phantom.
Letter 6 – Phantom Crane Fly
It has wings, but files slowly with legs out.
June 17, 2010
I live in north Louisiana, I have seen this bug flying several summers. This is the first time I was about to get a photo. It flies in a wave motion with legs out and slowly. I thought it was some kind of misquito, but after I saw my photo I do not think that anymore. Seems to be in damselfly family maybe, except for the short wings and only one set. Any info appreciated.
This is a Phantom Crane Fly in the genus Bittacomorpha. We have read that its coloration and method of flight allows it to seem to disappear as it floats from sun to shadow.
Letter 7 – Phantom Crane Fly
Location: Jacobson, MN
June 29, 2011 8:23 pm
So for 19 years of living out here in the boondocks, I’ve been…not terrorized, but generally startled and freaked out by these little buggers flittering around the house. Nobody else had ever seen them until my sister in law came over and we caught one, and I was finally able to see it up close. Could someone possibly clue me in as to what they are? They’re no real nuisance, I’m just curious after all these years.
Signature: Slightly Triumphant
Dear Slightly Triumphant,
We need to make this brief. This is a Phantom Crane Fly, Bittacomorpha clavipes.
Letter 8 – Phantom Crane Fly is double amputee
4 legged white booted dragonfly?
Location: northern minnesota usa
November 11, 2011 3:31 am
I seen this in my house in late summer in northern minnesota. This bug flew with all legs spred out gliding like it was flying squirrel. I am very curious as to what kind of bug it is. thank you
Though it somewhat resembles a Dragonfly, this Phantom Crane Fly is a true fly that is characterized by having two wings rather than the four wings that most insects possess. Your individual is missing two legs as a result of some trauma. Phantom Crane Flies, like other insects, have six legs.
Letter 9 – Phantom Crane Fly perhaps
Location: NE Ontario Canada
July 31, 2014 2:28 pm
What is it? We saw an insect today, six legs, in between the legs what looked like very small feathers. On the end of each leg, little tiny wing like things that were fluttering. It moved through the air much like a spider web on the breeze, but with deliberate direction contrary to the breeze direction. It was flying. The legs were black and white, the whole thing about 1.5″ in diameter. It was very difficult to see, it was almost transparent and when you got close to it it seemed to vanish. Leaving everyone saying “Where did it go?” It was in the upper level of the ground brush. About 3-4 feet above ground weaving it’s way through branches and grasses. Any ideas? We have been googling it trying to figure out what we saw. Never seen anything like it. It looked more like something you might find in the sea.
Sorry no camera, so sketched it a little.
Our best guess is a Phantom Crane Fly, Bittacomorpha clavipes.