Saturday, April 17, 2010

Crane Flies

It is Crane Fly season here in Phoenix. The house is full of them. They drown in my tea, in the bathtub, in the pool. They perch on the walls, windows and house plants. Fortunately they are harmless and actually quite elegant.

Crane flies are closely related to mosquitos, but don't sting or suck blood. The adults, if they eat at all, sip nectar. The larvae, called "leather jackets," because of their tough exoskeleton, are root eaters. Some people call them "mosquito hawks," but they do NOT eat mosquitos. The name probably comes from the idea that they look like large versions of mosquitos. My field guides boast that there are more than 4000 kinds of crane flies in the world, making them the largest family of insects in the insect order Diptera, or "flies". Over 1700 kinds roam North America. They range in size from a 2.5 inch long one to an itty bitty 1/16th of an inch one. How fascinating! Aren't you glad to learn this stuff?!?

The fragile long-legs of crane flies are thought to be adapted for escaping from predators and spider webs. Since the legs break easily, they can leave a leg behind and fly away to continue on with their mission of mating and reproducing. Like many insects, the adult phase is all about sex and not much else. Once that is accomplished they die. Ahhhhh!

Two weekends ago while camping on a sandy beach in Salome Canyon Wilderness, we woke one morning to see thousands of crane flies hatching out of the sand. We decided to call them "sand skimmers," since they hovered close to the ground, floating like a delicate gray fog in the cool morning air. The tubular husks of the larvae were scattered around on the sand, some just with the tips poking out, and many being hauled away by ants. Several mating pairs were observed "doing it," tail to tail as they flew in tandem or rested on the sand. As soon as the sun hit the beach, the "sand skimmers" flew off into the shrubs and trees.

These are one insect I don't mind sharing my house or my campsite with!

1 comment:

Chris Webb said...

As much as I love everything Mom Nature shares with us, I would rather not have these marvelous critters invading my house. My husband has had quite a job lately of removing them. Glad to hear they don't suck blood though - I'm allergic to mosquito bites, & these would put me over the edge.