Why Do Crane Flies Fly at Your Face? Busting the Myths and Revealing the Truth

Crane flies, those large, harmless insects with their long, delicate legs, might remind you of a giant mosquito. They often seem to be flying right toward your face, which can be quite unnerving for some. But why do these insects seem to be so attracted to your face in the first place?

It turns out that crane flies are not actually drawn to your face specifically. Instead, they are weak and slow fliers that can be easily influenced by air currents created by your movement. As you move or breathe, you generate air currents that can displace these fragile insects and cause them to fly erratically, which may give the impression that they’re targeting your face.

Crane flies are usually found around water and have short life spans, typically a week or two as adults. They are not harmful to humans and do not bite or sting. So, the next time you encounter a crane fly seemingly aiming for your face, keep in mind that it’s just an innocent bystander caught in the turbulence created by your presence.

Understanding Crane Flies

Crane flies, also known as members of the Tipulidae family, are often mistaken for giant mosquitoes due to their slender bodies and long, fragile legs. However, these insects don’t bite and can be distinguished by their unique features:

  • Size: Adult crane flies have a larger body size compared to mosquitoes.
  • Wingspan: Their wingspans can reach up to several centimeters, depending on the species.
  • Antennae: Crane flies have longer antennae, which often display a “V” shape.
  • Colour: While their colour scheme is usually dull with a grayish or brownish hue, there are some bright-colored species too.
  • Identification: Crane flies belong to the Diptera order and have diverse subfamilies.

You might wonder why crane flies seem to fly directly at your face. The reason for this behavior is not entirely clear, but it’s likely related to their poor flying skills. They flap their wings minimally, using their long legs to assist them in navigating through the air.

Furthermore, you might notice that crane flies are more active at night, often attracted to artificial lights. This attraction could be a contributing factor in their seemingly intrusive flying habits.

In conclusion, crane flies are interesting creatures that can be easily distinguished from mosquitoes by their unique appearance and characteristics. While their flight behavior might be a bit unsettling, you can rest assured that they are harmless insects.

Crane Flies Lifespan and Cycle

Crane flies undergo a life cycle consisting of four stages: egg, larval, pupal, and adult stages. In this section, you’ll learn about each stage, how long they last, and their characteristics.

Egg Stage

When spring arrives, adult crane flies start laying their eggs. They prefer to lay eggs in moist environments, which could be near water sources or damp soil. The eggs hatch within a few days, producing the next stage: larva.

Larval Stage

The crane fly larval stage, commonly referred to as “leatherjackets” due to their tough exterior, is where most of their growth happens. Throughout this stage, they feed on decaying vegetation, roots, and other organic matter. Larvae can endure various environmental changes like temperature and humidity. Here are the main features of the larval stage:

  • Moist environment
  • Feeding on organic matter
  • Adaptability to environmental conditions

In the larval stage, which typically lasts for several months, crane flies go through a series of molts, growing larger each time. After completing their growth, they enter the pupal stage.

Pupal Stage

The pupal stage is when crane fly larvae undergo metamorphosis, transforming into adults. Pupal cases can often be found in the soil, where they were formed by the larvae. This stage is shorter than the larval stage and usually occurs during the fall season.

Adult Stage

As adult crane flies emerge, their primary goal is to find a mate and reproduce. Contrary to popular belief, adult crane flies do not feed on humans or animals; most of them don’t even eat during their short lifespan, which ranges from a few days to a week.

In summary, crane fly life cycle includes the following stages:

  • Egg: laid in moist areas during spring
  • Larva: feeding on organic matter for several months
  • Pupa: metamorphosis stage during fall
  • Adult: short lifespan focused on reproduction

Remember, the next time you see a crane fly flying towards your face, it’s likely not looking for a meal; it’s just on a mission to find a mate and continue its life cycle.

Habitat and Distribution

Crane flies are commonly found in moist soil environments, making your garden and lawns their perfect habitat. These insects thrive in wetlands and the damp ground, so if you have a garden with lush, green grass, you might witness a higher number of crane flies.

In terms of geographical spread, the Pacific Northwest is known for its high presence of crane flies, especially the marsh crane fly species (source). This region provides an ideal environment for these insects due to its frequent rainfall and abundance of marshy areas.

Besides gardens, crane flies can often be seen around aquatic habitats. The larvae thrive in these water-based areas, developing into adult crane flies that go on to populate the environment surrounding them (source).

Some key points on crane fly habitats:

  • Gardens and lawns with moist soil
  • Wetlands and marshy areas
  • Pacific Northwest
  • Aquatic environments

It’s important to understand these habitat factors while dealing with crane flies, as their presence in your lawn or garden could indicate a moist environment that may also be suitable for other insects. By being familiar with their habitats, you can better comprehend why crane flies might fly near your face in an attempt to navigate through, or away from, their surrounding environment.

Feeding and Role in Ecosystem

Crane flies play an essential role in the ecosystem. Their larvae, known as leatherjackets, feed on various organic materials. As adults, they have a different diet, which we’ll explore later in this section.

Leatherjackets mostly feed on the roots of plants, decaying vegetation, and even decaying wood. Their preference for organic material makes them an essential part of the ecosystem’s decomposition process. Some of the common sources they consume are:

  • Plant roots
  • Decaying vegetation
  • Organic material

This feeding behavior of the leatherjackets may sometimes lead to damage in gardens or vegetated areas. When it comes to adult crane flies, their diet changes and focuses on nectar.

There are different species of crane flies, but the Marsh Crane fly is most commonly encountered. It has multiple generations per year and shares similar traits with the common European crane fly source.

Now, you might wonder why crane flies fly at your face. The reason behind this seemingly strange behavior is they are seeking out moisture. Since our face has moisture, especially around the eyes, nose, and mouth, they’re attracted to it.

So, while crane flies may seem annoying, they contribute significantly to the ecosystem by helping decompose decaying plants and other organic material. By understanding their role in nature, you can appreciate these creatures a bit more.

Misconceptions about Crane Flies

Misconception 1: Crane flies are giant mosquitoes.
Contrary to popular belief, crane flies are not a type of mosquito. They might look similar to giant mosquitoes due to their slender bodies and long, fragile legs, but they are an entirely different species of fly 1.

Misconception 2: Crane flies are ‘mosquito hawks’ that eat mosquitoes.
Although they are often called mosquito hawks, or skeeter-eaters, crane flies do not eat mosquitoes. Adult crane flies are harmless and do not eat at all during their short lifespan 2.

Misconception 3: Crane flies are harmful and can bite.
Crane flies, unlike mosquitoes, do not bite humans. They are completely harmless, and their mouthparts are not capable of biting 3.

Misconception 4: Daddy long legs are crane flies.
While some people might confuse crane flies with daddy long legs, they are actually different creatures. Crane flies belong to the family Tipulidae and are a type of fly. On the other hand, daddy long legs, also known as harvestmen, are arachnids belonging to the order Opiliones 4.

Here’s a quick comparison table to summarize the differences between crane flies, mosquitoes, and daddy long legs:

Feature Crane Fly Mosquito Daddy Long Legs
Classification Fly (Tipulidae) Fly (Culicidae) Arachnid (Opiliones)
Bite Humans No Yes No
Harmful to Humans No Yes No

By addressing these misconceptions, you can better understand the nature of crane flies and recognize them as harmless insects that typically do not pose any threat to you or your surroundings.

Why Crane Flies Fly at Your Face

Crane flies might seem annoying when they fly at your face, but they aren’t intentionally trying to bother you. They are simply attracted to certain factors that are common in humans, such as carbon dioxide and exposed skin.

When you exhale, you release carbon dioxide, which many insects, including crane flies, are attracted to. By flying at your face, crane flies are attempting to find the source of this gas. Exposed skin on your hands or face can also be a factor, as it might appear more appealing to them compared to covered skin.

Remember, crane flies are harmless and do not bite or sting. Next time one buzzes near your face, take a deep breath and remember they’re just following their natural instincts.

Controlling Crane Fly Population

To prevent crane fly infestation, you can take several measures. First, apply insecticides at the appropriate times. For instance, if you notice a high number of adult crane flies during late summer or early fall, it may be necessary to apply an insecticide to help control the larvae in your lawn.

Effective drainage and proper watering practices can also assist in managing crane fly populations. Excessive moisture attracts these insects, so maintaining a balanced watering schedule, especially during winter months, can be beneficial. Ensure proper drainage in your garden to avoid standing water, as this can become a breeding ground for crane flies.

Here are some additional tips to help reduce the crane fly presence in your yard:

  • Monitor and control fungi: Patches of brown or dying grass can indicate a potential crane fly infestation. Fungi often promote the growth of crane fly larvae, so if you notice any issues with brown patches in your lawn, take the necessary steps to control fungal growth.
  • Use nematodes: Certain types of beneficial nematodes can help control crane fly larvae. These microscopic worms attack and kill the larvae while not harming the rest of your lawn.
  • Deter skunks: Skunks are attracted to crane fly larvae and can cause significant damage to your lawn in search of their food. By ensuring your yard is free from skunks and other pests, you can help reduce crane fly populations and the likelihood of infestation.

By implementing these strategies, you can effectively manage and prevent crane fly populations from becoming a pest problem in your lawn or garden. Good luck, and remember to act proactively to keep these pesky insects in check!

Crane Flies and Other Species

As you may know, crane flies are large, mosquito-like insects with slender bodies and long, fragile legs1. They are often mistaken for giant mosquitoes, but they are not a kind of mosquito at all and do not bite2. Crane flies can be found around water3 and are known for flying towards people’s faces or windows screens due to their attraction to bright lights.

Crane flies are an essential part of the ecosystem. They play a significant role in controlling the population of other insects, creating a balance between the number of insects and their predators like birds4. Unfortunately, their larvae can become a nuisance to turf and forage crops, as they feed on the roots of these plants. This causes the plants to lose their vigor and become more susceptible to diseases5. In turn, the grubs (larvae) of crane flies can serve as food for animals like birds and daddy longlegs, among other predators6.

The decomposing bodies of crane flies and their larvae contribute to the natural process of decomposition and nutrient recycling. They break down organic matter, thus enriching the soil and supporting plant life7. In this way, crane flies help maintain the integrity of the ecosystem8.

To help with understanding the impact of crane flies, here is a quick comparison table:

Feature Crane Flies Other Species
General Appearance Slender, long-legged Varies (ex: short, round)
Diet Nectar, not blood Varies (ex: blood, plants)
Role in ecosystem Predator, decomposer Varies (ex: pollinator)
Pest impact Turf, forage crops Varies (ex: diseases)

In conclusion, crane flies play a beneficial role in ecosystems by serving as predators, decomposers, and food for other species. However, they can be a nuisance at times, especially when their larvae infest turf and forage crops.

Footnotes

  1. Cooperative Extension – Crane Flies 2

  2. Missouri Department of Conservation – Crane Fly Larvae 2

  3. The University of Arizona – Crane Flies 2

  4. Agricultural Biology – Crane flies 2

  5. OSU Extension Service – Managing Crane Fly in Lawns

  6. Missouri Department of Conservation – Crane Fly Larvae

  7. Agricultural Biology – Crane flies

  8. OSU Extension Service – Managing Crane Fly in Lawns

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 with Mites and Red Spotted Purple

 

Subject: Bug with eggs
Location: East Haddam, CT, USA
May 28, 2012 1:33 pm
Hi, this guy was photographed around May 20 in Conn. USA, an inch or so across. I am also wondering if those are wasp parasite eggs, or if she carries her own eggs on her back!
The other, the butterfly, pic taken about the same day, same place.
Thanks!
Signature: Dan

Crane Fly with Mites

Hi Dan,
The photo that you thought was an insect with wasp eggs is a Crane Fly and it is carrying Phoretic Mites.  Mites cannot fly, and they have evolved a behavior, known as phoresy, which allows them to move to new food sources.  Phoretic Mites attach themselves to flying insects and when they reach a suitable habitat, they drop off.  Here is a photo from BugGuide of a Crane Fly that is covered with Phoretic Mites.  We will try to identify the Crane Fly species.  The butterfly is a Red Spotted Purple.

Red Spotted Purple

Wow, that is amazing that you got back to me so fast, on Memorial Day, yet!
Get back out there to your picnic LOL!
That is fascinating about the Crane Fly, I thought that was what it was but I
had never seen the “eggs” before so I had no idea they were actually mites.
A Red Spotted Purple, not too imaginative with the name, but sure is lovely!
thanks again,
Dan

Letter 2 – Crane Fly with Mites

 

Is this a Crane Fly?
We saw this on the outside of our window the other night and had never seen one with eggs around its neck. Also, the wings on the crane fly’s I see usually are not folded back like this one. Picture taken in Kenmore WA (near Seattle) Taken with a digital camera on macro looking through a hand held magnifying lens. Thanks,
Doug

Hi Doug,
You are correct about this being a Crane Fly, but those are not eggs. They are Mites that are hitching a ride on the Crane Fly in order to be transported to a new location. This method of dispersal is known as Phoresy. We will contact a Crane Fly expert, Dr. Chen W. Young, to see if he can add anything. Dr. Chen Young quickly wrote back to us with this information: “Crane flies can hold their wings either way, fold over their back or spread out to the sides. The crane fly of your image actually is one belongs to the subfamily Limoniinae. They are smaller in body size and their antennae are 14-16 segments. The large crane flies belong to subfamily Tipulinae and their antennae are 13 segments. Check this section and scroll down to see the part regarding mites on crane flies http://iz.carnegiemnh.org/cranefly/introduction.htm#PREDATORS Several species of pseudoscorpions and mites have been reported to attach themselves to crane flies. The majority of these associations are actually phoretic relationships, where the pseudoscorpions and mites are carried as hitchhikers by the crane flies. However, others are parasitic mites that feed on the body fluid of the crane flies.” 

Update:  October 14, 2019
We just received a comment that the above link is not working.  The Crane Flies of Pennsylvania has a new url.

Letter 3 – Crane Fly: Wood Boring Tipulid

 

What’s that bug?!
Dear bugman,
Hello! I must say I really love looking at your site and checking out all the strange bugs in the world. This site has helped me on many occasions! I am writing because I have found a strange bug myself. I saw this in my backyard of Tacoma, WA. Can you help me? I was wondering if this was some kind of wasp perhaps? I’m sorry it’s a bit blurry, my camera seemed to want to focus on the leaves more than the bug! Thank you so much!
Ilona Hoffstaedter

Hi Ilona,
This is a Crane Fly, but we are uncertain of the exact species.

Update: (05/27/2008)
Daniel: The crane fly from Tacoma, Washington is a wood-boring tipulid, Ctenophora angustipennis, and appears to be a female. Males have comb-like antennae and a bulbous tip to the abdomen. This species is harmless, if not a valuable decomposer of rotting wood.
Eric

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.

12 thoughts on “Why Do Crane Flies Fly at Your Face? Busting the Myths and Revealing the Truth”

  1. Ahh shucks,
    I was hoping it was the phantom crane fly so I could count another family of bugs towards my class bug collection. Is this common, as after living in the South Seattle area for 30+ years, I have never seen this species? It is so much prettier than the common crane fly that ruins are grass!

    Reply
    • We don’t know much about this Crane Fly. We will research the Crane Flies of Pennsylvania website which actually covers species that live outside of Pennsylvania.

      Reply
  2. Ahh shucks,
    I was hoping it was the phantom crane fly so I could count another family of bugs towards my class bug collection. Is this common, as after living in the South Seattle area for 30+ years, I have never seen this species? It is so much prettier than the common crane fly that ruins are grass!

    Reply
  3. It is a pretty fly but I met them the hard way today.I was weeding and grabbed one by accident without gloves and it was like grabbing a rose thorn. Stuck in the palm of my hand. I have lived in Washington for over 40 years and this is my first encounter with this fly. They are doing a great job decomposing the stump in my yard 🙂 A little disconcerting when they started flying out of it though. Knew it was a type of crane fly since it didn’t have the thorax like a wasp.

    Reply
  4. Actually I don’t think the red things are phoretic mites. I believe they’re the larval stage of the Velvet Mite (family Trombidiidae) and they’re feeding on the cranefly. They can usually be found on craneflies, grasshoppers, spiders, harvestmen and leafhoppers.

    Reply

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