If you see large, thin-winged insects buzzing around your property, it’s easy to assume that oversized mosquitoes have invaded your home.
But if you take a closer look, you might actually be dealing with a crane fly. Also known as mosquito killers and mosquito hawks, these beetles look very similar to the annoying bloodsuckers but are not related, says Dr. Nancy Troyano, Certified Entomologist and Director of Operations Education and Training for Western Annihilator.
Crane flies are part of the largest family of flies, the Tiplulidae, with more than 1,600 species in North America, adds Howard Russell, MS, an entomologist at Michigan State University. “Most species are found in humid habitats,” he says. “Many are aquatic or semi-aquatic at the larval stage.”
Crane flies usually appear in spring and fall “especially after a rain event in the warmer seasons,” says Troyano.
Crane fly versus mosquito: how can you tell the difference?
At first glance, they look a lot alike – both have long legs and small wings. But crane flies “are significantly larger and have much longer legs,” says Troyano. Mosquitoes are typically less than 1 inch long, while crane flies grow over an inch. When you get close enough to look at a crane fly, you will find that it has a more elongated face.
Depending on the species, crane flies can be black, red, or yellow, explains entomologist Ben Hottel, Ph.D., technical service director at Orkin, LLC. “Their wings can be transparent, brown, gray-black, or brownish-yellow,” he adds.
Do crane flies bite people?
Good news: they won’t hurt you. “Crane flies don’t bite people and don’t feed on blood,” says Hottel. In fact, crane flies don’t eat much of anything.
“Many adult crane flies lack mouthpieces to eat and they live on the fat sources that they acquired as larvae,” says Troyano. (The larvae eat the roots of plants and decaying vegetation.) “These crane flies, which have mouthpieces, land on flowers and drink nectar.”
Are crane flying an advantage? Do they actually eat mosquitos?
Crane fly larvae help break down organic matter in the environment, while adult crane flies serve as food for fish, birds, small mammals, spiders, and some predatory insects, Troyano says. But despite their nickname “mosquito hawk”, crane flies don’t actually eat mosquitos.
How to get rid of crane flies and their larvae
If you spot a random crane fly here and there, don’t worry about it – you can easily take it out with a fly swatter or a rolled-up magazine if it bothers you. However, if you have a lawn infestation, it is time to take action.
1. Scope the damage out.
If you have a problem with crane fly larvae, you may notice random brown spots around your yard and even see a brownish paste when they are most active in spring and fall. In some cases, crane flies can damage the lawn, especially when there are many of them and the soil drainage is poor. (Adults like to lay their eggs in moist soil.)
2. Identify the larvae.
Crane flies only live a few days as adults, so they’re unlikely to be that harmful – but they could be a sign that larvae (aka leather jackets) are settling nearby. If you have brown or dying spots on your lawn, examine the soil for larvae that are about two to three inches long that look like fat, fleshy worms. Dig a one foot three inch square along a patch, raise the grass, and inspect the area. One or two larvae aren’t a big deal – but a group of them will require treatment.
Treat your lawn.
Systemic tree and shrub insect key
Treating your lawn with an insecticide is the most effective way to get rid of crane flies and their larvae. “The key to control would be to prevent crane flies from showing up as adults. This is usually the stage of life we see,” says Troyano.
You can either spray your lawn yourself or you can contact a pest control service to do it for you. Most turf insecticides will work if you’re looking to do your own thing, but it’s often best to look for ones that contain ingredients like imidacloprid, Russell says. Treatment should do the trick. Since the crane flies like wet soil, make sure your grass is not overwatered and has adequate drainage.
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