Wild Profile: Meet the crane fly

A male crane fly By Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock

Ever seen a crane fly in the Spring? Sure you have—you probably just thought it was a really huge mosquito. Don’t worry: these gentle giants have no interest in your blood (or any other mammal’s). Unlike mosquitoes, crane flies don’t have the mandibles required to pierce skin. They eat only flower nectar and honeydew produced by aphids, despite the nickname “mosquito eater.”

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A crane fly’s ultra-long legs—about six times longer than those of a mosquito—help to make it so freaky looking. Those legs may be long, but they’re not very sturdy; it’s common to see flies with missing limbs. Brittle, breakable legs are probably in part an escape mechanism for the bugs. They’re weak fliers, and often fall prey to birds (plus amphibians and mammals). If caught by a leg, a crane fly can still get away and survive, though the appendage won’t grow back.

Breakable body parts aren’t that unusual in the animal world; read about the five-lined skink.

Adult crane flies live only for about two weeks (after spending almost a year as larvae, living in leaf litter, moist soil, and rotting logs). Geologically speaking, however, crane flies are very, very old. The crane fly family likely emerged about 220 million years ago, long before many other “true flies,” two-winged insects in the order Diptera. (Other species with the name “fly”—the caddisfly, for example—aren’t considered true flies.) The crane fly family is not only old, it’s huge. Entomologists have discovered at least 300 species in Ontario; compare that to, at latest count, the province’s roster of less than 70 native mosquitoes.

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