Dateline: January 11, 2013*
I remember when I first moved to Florida I saw what I thought was a HUGE mosquito, thinking that there were mutant bugs down here, big enough to drain a body of blood in one gulp. They certainly look like mosquitoes, but the poor critters are swatted and squished all due to a case of mistaken identity. The flying mimics are actually crane flies and they don’t bite.
Crane flies are beneficial in our gardens. Some species’ larvae are aquatic while others spend their youth in the soil. Both break down organic matter, returning nutrients to their respective habitats. As with most of nature, occasionally too much of a good thing can pose a problem. Some crane fly species can be a pest to agriculture. That’s why it is so important to have a balanced garden. Avoid pesticide use as chemicals kill the good bugs as well as the bad, and often kill those bugs that will control others to avoid them becoming pests.
Both larval and adult crane flies provide an important food source for birds, reptiles, spiders, fish and other insects such as dragonflies, mantids, centipedes and beetles. Fishermen have been known to use the larval stage of members of the family Tipulidae (Large Crane Flies) as bait. As you can see, there are plenty of predators to keep the population in order.
Tipulidae is the largest family in the Order Diptera. Given this, identification can be mind-boggling. You can find out everything you ever wanted to know about the anatomy of a crane fly at that identification key link. Suffice to say I was unable (or unwilling) to crawl around counting wing lines or antenna segments…that and I really don’t wear my reading glasses when I am walking around the property calling on critters for a photo shoot. Old eyes can’t see tiny nuances.
Crane flies undergo complete metamorphosis. Some species have an elongated rostrum (think Pinocchio), a straw-like appendage used to draw nectar from flowers. Thus, we can conclude that they also perform pollination duties.
I noticed that most of the time when I see the adults fly it is when it is slightly damp or overcast, so if it is daytime and you see a mutant mosquito, take a good look before you swat. You may be saving the life of an insect that will help your wildlife garden grow more beautiful.
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on January 11, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.