Mosquitoes flying around

What Exactly are Crane Flies?

March 10, 2023

By Daniel Baldwin, BCE, CCFS, CP-FS

Crane flies are often called giant mosquitoes, “skeeter-eaters,” mosquito hawks, or are mistaken for mayflies, when in fact, they’re their very own species. This fly is harmless, but they can look intimidating due to their potentially large size. 

Learn more about crane flies below and find out where they live, how big they can really be, and if they pose any risks to people or pets.

What are crane flies?

Crane flies are a part of the largest fly family in the world, the Tipluidae family, with over 14,000 species. These flies can be found in almost all places on Earth. Most active at night or in shady areas, crane flies tend to fly around sporadically, often in people’s faces.

Often called mosquito hawks, which can give the mistaken impression that these flying wanderers hunt mosquitoes, the crane fly is almost entirely harmless. 

A crane fly perched on a plant leaf.

What do crane flies look like?

At first glance, crane flies look like a massively oversized mosquito. Often mistaken for a mutant mosquito, crane flies are much less of a pest and don’t transmit organisms that cause disease. 

Unlike a mosquito, crane flies do not have an elongated proboscis to suck blood from unwitting victims. 

With long, slender legs and a slim body and wings, they are known for their characteristically erratic and almost clumsy flight style. Their legs and bodies are so gangly that it makes them terrible fliers, often seen wobbling through the air on a clumsy path. Their legs can also easily be broken off.  Female crane flies have pointier abdomens than males; that’s an easy way to tell the sexes apart. 

Crane flies, as mentioned above, are rather large in size. However, their size ranges depending on their location. In North America, crane flies can range from .07–2.3 inches in length. In tropical climates and regions, crane flies can grow to almost 4 inches long.

What do crane flies eat?

There are several categories of crane fly species that eat different types of food, but none of them are harmful to people or pets as they aren’t blood-seekers.

Some eat only algae and bacteria from the surface of rocks and other natural surfaces. Others prefer a diet of aquatic invertebrates and insects, cruising flat water for easy pickings. Still others are a part of the decomposition ecosystem, finding their food sources among decomposing organic material, like bacteria and feces. 

The only crane flies that can be a potential pest are those that feed on the root systems of lawns and other vegetation, which sometimes can cause damage to carefully cultivated lawns, like those found on golf courses. 

Where do crane flies live?

Some aquatic species of crane flies live close to the surface and take shelter under floating organic matter or algae mats. Other species live above ground in moist sand or soil.

Why do crane flies fly at your face?

This is a common question that applies to many species of flies. While some species of flies are after the protein, salt, and water on our skin, targeting our faces because they are usually uncovered, the crane fly is different. 

Crane flies are attracted to light, and we are often close to light sources, with our eyes and faces potentially reflecting light and becoming a bright spot that they can fly towards. 

What attracts crane flies?

Crane flies are attracted to areas where they can find food and shade, so if you have areas in your yard that are damp, have still water or moist soil, you might find that you see a lot of adult crane flies. Overwatering your lawn is one way to provide that extra moisture that may attract crane flies, so be sure to keep your watering at the right level.

The species of crane fly that lays their larvae in the roots of grass is attracted to well-watered and aerated soil, which gives them the perfect place to reproduce. It can take up to a year for an egg to hatch and a larva to develop into its pupal stage. After it matures and becomes an adult, crane flies only live 1–3 days on average to mate and lay eggs so the cycle can start all over again.

How to get rid of crane flies

For the most part, crane flies do not need active pesticidal measures since they are relatively harmless pests. Unlike mosquitoes, they are not vectors of disease, since they do not bite humans or animals. 

If crane flies are causing havoc to your lawn, there are pesticides that are available, depending on your location and regulation of pesticides in your area, that you can use to target both larvae and adults. If you’re having trouble getting rid of crane flies that are causing damage to your vegetation or yard, it may be best to call a pest control professional to assess the situation and determine the right treatment for your area.

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