Misunderstood by some and pretty much considered useless by just about everyone else (except for the birds and bats who eat them) are the gangly, bumbling Crane Flies (from the fly family Tipulidae). They recently popped out of the ground in their long-legged thousands at Camp Salmen and promise to be here all summer long. They’re mildly obnoxious, like someone you have to put up with in your life that has a harmless but persistent personality disorder.
So what exactly do Crane Flies do? Blunder into people’s faces, sit where they don’t belong, land in food, buzz around light bulbs, lose their legs at the slightest provocation, mate so there can be a fresh batch of them as soon as they can lay eggs and then leave their expended corpses on our nice, clean floors. They live most of their lives as long, plump larva, eating rotting organic debris in soil and water bottoms and (I’m not sure why) have the rugged, he-man name “leatherback.” They have other false identities, some that give them a more ferocious reputation than they deserve.
Some people think these things are male mosquitoes. This may be an understandable mistake considering many species we encounter are “sexually dimorphic,” that is, there is a remarkable difference between the male and the female version. (We like to say among our own kind, “vive la difference.”) Actually, you practically need a microscope to tell male and female mosquitoes apart. Though Crane flies are similar in appearance to mosquitoes they are ten times larger and don’t bite (although I’ve seen some people, mostly girls, freak out at the sight of them).
Crane Flies have also been misidentified as May Flies, though this insect looks more closely like a Dragonfly and has a little more grace and purpose in life.
Crane flies are also known as mosquito hawks and mosquito eaters. This folklore probably happened because they look like big ‘skeeters that would probably hunt small ‘skeeters but nothing can be further from the truth. The adult Crane Flies we see flying around don’t hunt; they don’t even have mouths and die shortly after mating. A mosquito could care less if Crane Flies are present.