DON’T PANIC! It’s just a crane fly.

“WOW!  That’s a GIGANTIC mosquito!!”

That is a common response to most people’s first sighting of a crane fly, a flying insect with a wingspan of 1-2 cm or more.  Although they do somewhat resemble very large mosquitoes, crane flies are completely harmless to humans.  Crane flies are one of many groups of insects that are widespread and diverse, but almost completely unknown to most of us.

A crane fly on indiangrass at Lincoln Creek Prairie - Aurora, Nebraska.

A crane fly on indiangrass at Lincoln Creek Prairie – Aurora, Nebraska.

There are apparently over 15,000 species and subspecies of crane flies worldwide.  Raise your hand if you’d heard of them before this post…   Exactly.  That’s not a knock on you, but an indication of the great complexity and diversity of the our world.

The photo above is – I think – of a female tiger crane fly (Nephrotoma ferruginea).  That identification isn’t based upon any particular knowledge of mine, but upon a search of the fantastic website bugguide.net.    I know diddly poo about crane flies, but according to a short blurb I found at this link , the larvae of this species hang out in the soil and eat decaying plants and roots. Most adult crane flies only live a week or two – just time to find a mate and lay eggs before dying.

Crane flies are common in prairies, but also easy to find in many other habitats, including backyards, so there are plenty of opportunities to mistake them for huge mosquitoes.  If you start keeping your life list of crane fly species now, maybe you can get all 15,000 of them by sometime next century…