What Eats Crane Flies: The Intriguing Predators Unveiled

folder_openDiptera, Insecta
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Crane flies may look intimidating, but they’re often a misunderstood outdoor critter. You may have encountered these large, mosquito-like insects in your yard and wondered about their role in the ecosystem. Knowing what eats crane flies can help us appreciate their place in the natural world and can give us a better understanding of how these fragile creatures fit into the food web.

In the wild, crane flies play an essential role in the food chain, serving as a valuable food source for various creatures ranging from birds to amphibians. By understanding the dietary preferences of these predators, you can gain a better appreciation for the intricate relationships between different species and the balance that exists in nature.

For instance, common predators of crane flies include birds like robins and swallows, which feast on both adult crane flies and their larvae. Frogs, toads, and even some spiders may also snack on these insects, helping control their population and ensuring that the delicate ecological system maintains equilibrium. Overall, understanding what eats crane flies leads to a better appreciation for the interconnectedness of our natural world.

Understanding Crane Flies

Crane flies, often mistaken for giant mosquitoes, are a unique insect species. You’ve most likely witnessed these long-legged creatures fluttering around in your yard. Although they are occasionally referred to as “mosquito hawks,” they do not actually eat mosquitoes.

Crane flies belong to the dipteran family, possessing just two wings like other true flies. Their appearance differs slightly between males and females. Both sexes have similar body shapes, but males generally display bushier antennae. Moreover, their wingspans can reach up to 1.2 inches, making them easy to spot.

Key features of crane flies are:

  • Grayish or tan body color
  • Slender body with segments
  • Long, fragile legs
  • Wing span up to 1.2 inches

As for their role in nature, crane flies play a crucial part in ecosystems. During their larval stage, they contribute to breaking down organic matter, while adult crane flies serve as food for numerous predators. It is important to understand and respect these insects as valuable components of our environment.

Comparing male and female crane flies:

Feature Male Crane Fly Female Crane Fly
Antennae Bushier antennae Less bushy antennae
Abdomen Pointed tip Blunt tip with ovipositor

In summary, crane flies are fascinating insects with distinctive features and important ecological purposes. Despite their resemblance to mosquitoes and the nickname “mosquito hawks,” they have no direct link to their blood-sucking counterparts. By learning more about crane flies, you’ll develop a greater appreciation for these harmless insects and their essential role in the ecosystem.

Crane Flies’ Life Cycle

Crane flies, often mistaken for giant mosquitoes, have a life cycle that consists of four main stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Let’s explore each of these stages briefly.

Eggs: Female crane flies lay their eggs in damp soil or water. Within a week or two, these eggs hatch, giving birth to the larval stage of the crane fly.

Larvae: The crane fly larva is a soft, legless grub that feeds on decaying plants and other organic matter. These larvae live in wet environments such as soil, rotting wood, or even water. Your yard may be home to these tiny creatures!

  • Larval stage duration: around 2-4 months
  • Characteristics of crane fly larvae: tiny, legless, tan, gray, or greenish

Pupa: When the larva is ready to metamorphose, it forms a pupa. Pupation usually takes place in damp soil. This is a resting stage and marks the transition from the larval to the adult form.

Adult Crane Flies: Once they hatch from the pupa, adult crane flies reach their delicate, gangly form, around 1 inch in length. These adults mate and reproduce, continuing the life cycle, but unlike their larvae counterparts, adult crane flies do not cause significant damage to plants.

Now that you understand the life cycle of a crane fly, you might be better equipped to identify and handle their presence in your environment. Remember, it’s the larvae that cause damage to lawns and plants, so inspections and timely interventions can make all the difference in protecting your outdoor spaces.

Crane Flies’ Feeding Habits

Crane flies are fascinating insects with distinct feeding habits. Both adult crane flies and their larvae have specific preferences when it comes to their diet.

Adult Crane Flies

As adults, crane flies primarily feed on nectar from flowers. They consume this energy source to extend their short lives, which only last about one or two weeks1. Here’s what adult crane flies typically consume:

  • Nectar
  • Flowers
  • Fungi (occasionally)

Crane Fly Larvae

The larvae of crane flies, on the other hand, have a different diet. They feed on various forms of organic material, which helps them grow and develop. A crane fly larva’s diet can include:

  • Algae
  • Decomposing plants
  • Microbes

In some cases, crane fly larvae may also consume mosquito larvae2, making them useful in controlling mosquito populations. However, this is not their primary food source.

By understanding the feeding habits of crane flies, you can better appreciate the role they play in our ecosystem. Just remember that while adult crane flies consume nectar and occasionally fungi, their larvae feed on organic material and may even help control mosquito larvae populations.

Habitat of Crane Flies

Crane flies are commonly found near moist environments, as they prefer to lay their eggs in damp soil. Their typical habitats include grassy areas, gardens, and lawns, but they can also be found in places like golf courses or pastures where vegetation is abundant. In the Pacific Northwest, they are particularly prevalent due to the region’s wet conditions.

Some characteristics of crane fly habitats include:

  • Moist soil
  • Grassy areas
  • Gardens and lawns
  • Golf courses and pastures
  • Decaying wood and plant matter

As larvae, crane flies primarily reside in the soil, feeding on the roots of grasses and other plants. They usually remain underground for most of their development, making it essential for their habitat to have moist soil to support their growth. When they emerge as adults, they continue to stay close to their preferred habitats, often seen resting on plants or the ground.

The environments in which crane flies thrive provide them with the necessary resources for mating and producing offspring. This means finding suitable areas with an abundance of plants, ample moisture, and decaying wood or plant matter for their larvae to feed on. So, if you happen to stumble upon a crane fly resting in your garden or near a golf course, you can be sure that they are enjoying their habitat.

Impact of Crane Flies

Crane flies are often mistaken for mosquitoes due to their long legs and elongated, slim bodies. However, these insects are generally harmless to humans and pets. Their larvae, also known as leatherjackets, can cause damage to plants by feeding on their roots.

Some animals, such as birds, invertebrates, and even pets, may eat crane flies or their larvae. Despite the belief that they are “skeeter eaters,” crane flies do not prey on mosquitoes.

When it comes to controlling crane fly populations, insecticides may be used, but caution should be taken as these chemicals can also harm beneficial insects and other animals. Opt for alternative methods, such as introducing natural predators or practicing proper lawn care, to minimize damage to your plants.

Below is a comparison table highlighting the characteristics of crane flies:

Feature Crane Fly
Size Adults: about 13 mm (0.5 inches); larvae: 25.5-32 mm (1-1.25 inches) long
Harm to humans Harmless
Diet Larvae feed on plant roots; adults do not feed
Ovipositor Present in female crane flies for laying eggs
Mating Occurs during their short adult life
Impact on crops Can cause damage to plants by feeding on roots; may introduce plant diseases by providing entry points
Pest control Insecticides, introducing natural predators or practicing proper lawn care can help minimize their impact

Remember, crane flies are not a significant threat to you or your pets. Instead, focus on managing their populations to protect your plants and maintain a balanced ecosystem.

Role in Ecosystem

Crane flies, belonging to the Tipulidae insect family, play an essential role in the ecosystem. These creatures are often called mosquito hawks; however, they are not predators of mosquitoes. Let’s understand their place in the food chain.

Crane flies, especially their larval stage known as leatherjackets, serve as a food source for various animals. You may see birds like red and yellow finches feed on these leatherjackets, which are usually brown or gray cylindrical grubs. Furthermore, some mammals, such as skunks, relish these larvae as a valuable food source.

During their life cycle, crane flies pass through four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Leatherjackets, the larval stage, can cause damage to turf plants and seedlings by feeding on their roots.

To control the population of crane flies like the European crane fly, gardeners and homeowners often turn to pesticides, nematodes, or liquid treatments. Nonetheless, it’s essential to be cautious when using these methods since they might affect other insects and wildlife.

In conclusion, crane flies are an integral part of the ecosystem as they contribute to the food chain. Despite being considered pests in some situations, they play a vital role in supporting the existence and survival of various animals and insects.

Footnotes

  1. What are crane flies? – AgriLife Today

  2. Crane Flies – Home and Garden IPM from Cooperative Extension

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 – Giant Eastern Crane Fly

 

Subject: Crane Fly
Location: Putnam Valley, NY
September 30, 2013 10:20 am
Thanks to your website, I was able to identify this fascinating ”bug”, that was on the wall of my sister’s house in Putnam Valley, NY, a few days ago. The popular guess was ”a mosquito”…but I wasn’t convinced!
Signature: Gabe Laffy

Giant Eastern Crane Fly
Giant Eastern Crane Fly

Hi Gabe,
The distinctive markings on the wings distinguish the Giant Eastern Crane Fly,
Pedicia albivitta.

Letter 2 – Crane Fly from the UK

 

Subject: Wasp dragonfly?
Location: Oxted, Surrey, UK
June 6, 2014 3:11 pm
Hi,
I spotted this today and have never seen anything like this in the uk. Curious to know what it is. It is early summer in the uk and was spotted at Oxted railway station in Surrey.
Thanks,
Signature: Simon

Crane Fly: Female Tanyptera atrata
Female Crane Fly

Hi Simon,
This is a Crane Fly, and we quickly located a matching image on the Wild About Britain blog where it is identified as
Tanyptera atrata.  We also located a beautiful image of a female ovipositing on the Diptera Info forum.

Hi Daniel,
That’s very much for the identification.
Kind regards,
Simon

Update:  June 2, 2018
Based on this new submission, we now question our original species identification.  Based on images posted to Eakring Birds and on Diptera Info, we believe now believe this Crane Fly might be Ctenophora pectinicornis.

Letter 3 – Crane Fly from Switzerland

 

Subject: mosquito or some stinger?
Location: Switzerland
August 10, 2014 1:20 pm
Hi, should I be worried about this flying around my daughter’s room?
Signature: Cathy

Crane Fly
Crane Fly

Dear Cathy,
This is a Crane Fly, and it is perfectly harmless. In an attempt to identify the species, we found this FlickR image from Portugal identified as
 Nephrotoma crocata luteata, and it looks very similar to your image, though your image is quite blurry.  This image of Nephrotoma quadrifaria from France on Superstock looks even closer. We also located this image of Nephrotoma crocata from France on iGoTerra.

Wow, that’s it! Thank you so much! 😀

Letter 4 – Crane Fly from Spain

 

Subject: Ctenophora (Cnemoncosis) ishiharai in Barcelona?
Location: Barcelona
May 16, 2016 3:42 pm
Hi from Barcelona 🙂
I’m a little confused since I realised this crane fly may be a japanese Ctenophora (Cnemoncosis) ishiharai.
May be it possible? I’m doubting with abdomen and wings.
Thank you Bugman 😀
Signature: Óscar

Crane Fly
Crane Fly

Hi Oscar,
In our opinion, you have the genus correct but the species wrong.  This looks to us like like a male Ctenophora ornata that we identified on Alamy and verified on Eakring Birds.  Only males have feathered antennae, and females have an ovipositor.

Letter 5 – Crane Fly we presume

 

Subject: Petite, with long legs, seeks same…
Location: Andover, NJ
October 12, 2016 3:55 pm
I am hoping you can help me narrow this down to a family. Pretty certain it’s a crane fly, although quite a bit smaller than what I’m accustomed to seeing. This one’s body was about 1/2-3/4 inch in length. I was only able to get one view of it before it took off. It had landed on some hostas, but our property is surrounded on 3 sides by woods (hickory, oak, maple, new growth).
Hope you help me out!
Signature: Deborah Bifulco

Crane Fly we believe
Crane Fly we believe

Dear Deborah,
We agree this is most likely a Crane Fly, and it reminds us of the members of the Liminid Crane Fly or Meadow Crane Fly family Limoniidae, though we didn’t find any images on BugGuide that look like your individual.  For now, we are posting it as unidentified and we will attempt to contact Dr. Chen Young who is a specialist in Crane Flies.

Thanks for getting back to me.  I, too, was thinking Limoniidae, but was also unable to find a match on BugGuide or elsewhere.  Hope your expert will be able to shed some light!
Kindly
Deborah

Authors

  • 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.

    View all posts
  • 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.

    View all posts
Tags: Crane Fly

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