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Crane Flies: Harmless Bugs With a Bad Rap

Catherine's writing reflects her life-long love of nature and gardening. She advocates for sustainability and respect for all living things.

The crane fly from the insect family Tipulidacea is often referred to as "daddy long legs,"  a term that can also refer to the common cellar spider and Opiliones "harvestmen"

The crane fly from the insect family Tipulidacea is often referred to as "daddy long legs," a term that can also refer to the common cellar spider and Opiliones "harvestmen"

A Harmless Flying Nuisance

The crane fly, often called "daddy long legs" or "mosquito hawk" is one of the most misunderstood flying insects. Since it resembles the mosquito and is frequently found indoors, it has gotten a bad reputation as a harmful pest.

Actually, these flying bugs can be a nuisance, but they do not bite nor do they spread disease. They are not to be confused with the common cellar spiders nor the arachnid opilones referred to as "harvestmen."

There are two types which inhabit our homes and gardens: the European crane fly, Tipula paludosa and the common crane fly, Tipula oleracea. The two are visually the same except to the practiced eye of an entomologist. One distinct difference is the number of life cycles per year.

Typically, the crane fly emerges as an adult in the late summer/early fall when it is ready to mate. The adult Tipula oleracea also emerges again in the spring when temperatures are warm enough, and the females emerge with mature eggs. Although they sip nectar, they do not eat. The sole purpose within their short 10-14 day life span is to mate and reproduce. A female will typically lay 300 eggs in the soil.

Larval Stage

Mature crane flies are harmless; however, in the larval stage, they can do damage to turf grass when populations are heavy. The leatherjacket, as the larva is known, feeds on the thatch and roots beneath lawns where it helps with the decomposition of organic matter. Healthy lawns and environments that attract birds and wildlife can withstand this insect, but with dense leatherjacket populations, lawns will exhibit unsightly brown spots with poor growth. How can you tell if you have a problem?

It's important to understand that brown spots can be caused by other things besides insects including poor irrigation and fungal diseases. It is necessary to diagnose the source of the problem before trying to fix it.

Larval Turf Pests

clockwise from top left: sod webworm, beetle grub,  crane fly leather jacket, cutworm.

clockwise from top left: sod webworm, beetle grub, crane fly leather jacket, cutworm.

How to Find and Control the Crane Fly

Follow these simple steps to check for a crane fly larvae problem:

  • Choose 3 - 4 areas in your lawn for sampling. Look for areas that have turned brown. Also observing the places where birds or wildlife are feeding can help you to pick likely spots.
  • Measure a square foot area and use a knife to remove a plug 3" thick. If on a brown area, cut the plug where it borders the green grass for your sample.
  • First, study the hole for larva, then examine the clump of grass. Larva will usually be visible in the root and thatch area. Pull the clump apart lightly. If it is easy to tear, it's a good sign that larvae have been chewing on the roots.
  • Repeat these steps as needed for random sampling.

There are apt to be other larvae in your sod such as cutworms, beetle grubs, and sod webworms. Leatherjackets are distinctly legless.

Prevention and Treatment Options

Tips on preventing leatherjacket infestations include the following:

  • Keep the lawn mowed weekly to a height of 3-4 inches.
  • Reduce excess moisture with longer, less-frequent irrigation.
  • Water in the early morning rather than the evening.
  • Aerate the lawn ever two years to ensure good drainage.

If your lawn is healthy, and you're not bothered by the pecking and minor digging of larvae foragers, you really needn't worry about treatment. Birds and small mammals keep the numbers under control. Also, drier conditions help to prevent large populations.

In wetter areas, 25 or more larvae per square foot may be concerning, but generally it's finding 50 to 80 per sq. ft., when you will want to take action.

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Read More From Dengarden

There are granular insecticides and liquid concentrates which are applied through a hose-end sprayer. Most target these pests plus a host of other soil and turf insects including grubs, fleas, chinch bugs, mole crickets, ticks, and ants.

As an organic alternative, there are beneficial nematodes which are available for home delivery through Nemasys is another nematode product which targets leatherjackets. Double-strength applications are recommended in April to May with a single strength follow-up in September to October.

A Word About Pesticides

Consider that neonicotinoid pesticides affect our bees and other beneficial pollinators. Imidicloprid and Cyflurin, the active ingredients in turf pest treatments fall into this harmful category. The application of these products should be done as a last resort since they will indiscriminately kill all insects in your lawn and soil including beneficial ones. Preventative steps, natural predators, and organic controls are safer and better options all around.

Remember to look at the larger picture. We share our environment with many other creatures, and the beauty around us is a product of a collaborative effort. Take the time to understand the presence of "pests" before attempting to eliminate them. They are usually minor inconveniences of short duration such as the crane fly which doesn't deserve its bad rap!


This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: How come crane flies in my house don't move?

Answer: Craneflies often rest unless disturbed. Sometimes the wings are opened, and sometimes not.

Question: Do crane flies kill flies in your home?

Answer: No. The only purpose of an adult cranefly is reproduction. In its short life of several days, it must mate and deposit eggs in the soil. It doesn't eat.

Question: Will crane flies reproduce in the carpet if indoors?

Answer: No. They mate and lay eggs in the soil where the hatched larvae eat turf grasses and roots.

Question: What do crane flies eat?

Answer: The only purpose of an adult crane fly is to mate and lay eggs. It has a life span of a few days and does not eat except for small amounts of nectar. Only the larva, known as leather jackets, feed.

Question: Why do the legs of crane flies become lame or fall off?

Answer: Even though crane flies live for 2 weeks, their purpose is to mate and reproduce. Their six legs are nearly twice as long as their bodies and act to protect them. It is much easier for a predator to grab the long legs than it is to reach the body, and the crane fly has the ability to drop one leg or more as a means of escape. This is called autonomy. Centipedes and other long-legged insects and arthropods have this capability as do lizards which drop their tails when threatened.

Question: Why are crane flies often called mosquito hawks?

Answer: The name describes a large mosquito-like flying insect which is what many think they are. There is also the false belief that crane flies eat mosquitoes. They don't eat anything once they emerge from their pupae. In their short lifespan of 10 days, their sole purpose is to mate and reproduce. Mosquito hawk is a misnomer on both counts.

Question: Is Tipula a danger to humans?

Answer: No. They do not bite nor do they breed inside our homes. Many people are afraid of flying insects, but this one is harmless.

Question: I have found a female crane fly with only three legs - she has her two long forward-facing legs but only one long rear-facing leg, attached near her halteres. She is trying to fly but cannot. I know crane flies can manage with fewer than six legs but think she has lost too many to survive. poor thing is desperately trying, with rests in between. What is your opinion regarding this crane fly's chances?

Answer: Her chances of survival shouldn't be based on the number of legs since Crane flies can survive with 3 or fewer of them. She may already be near the end of her normal life span. If she is indoors, I'd move her outside where she has a greater chance of mating.

Question: If the adults only live a few days, how can they emerge in the Spring and mate in the Fall?

Answer: There can be 2 cycles a year, climate permitting. Once crane flies emerge, their sole purpose is reproduction. The female leaves her pupa with mature eggs in her abdomen, ready to find a mate and reproduce. Before she dies, she will deposit her eggs into the soil where the hatched larvae will feed, pupate, and repeat the 10-14 cycle as a crane fly.

© 2011 Catherine Tally


Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on May 06, 2019:

You're welcome. Some of them can get really large and intimidating!

Xiomara gurment on May 06, 2019:

Thx for telling me this,I saw one in my house and got scared.( It's my first time seeing one.) So,I googled what it was and found this! Now I can go back to my room in peace!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 10, 2011:

Welcome home, Arb! I hope your trip to California caught mostly sun as we've had our share of rain this year.

Thanks for taking the time to read my hub. I appreciate your kind comments. Be well also :>)

arb on April 10, 2011:

Just returned from 2 weeks in sunny Ca. and have a lot of catching up to do. Well writteen and informative, as always. Just don't know what to do with all this info. Maybe, I'll go back to school and do better the 2nd time around. Be well. voted up and awesome.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 06, 2011:

Daddy long legs also refers to two different species of arachnids: opiliones "harvestmen" and pholicidae "cellar spiders."

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 04, 2011:

Kathi and Genna,

Thank you both for reading!

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on April 04, 2011:

We see these once in a while as well. Useful hub, Cat, thank you!

Kathi Mirto from Fennville on April 04, 2011:

I always wondered about those long legged insects that get inside sometimes? I tried to catch one in the house last summer and it did bite me to my surprise. Thank you for sharing this useful information!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 03, 2011:

That's an apt description! Thanks for reading :>)

breakfastpop on April 03, 2011:

We used to call this bug a "Dancing Harry", why I have no idea. I must say I am relieved to know they don't bite.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 03, 2011:

Thanks for your comment, Tina. You are not wrong at all. Daddy Long Legs does indeed refer to the prolific cobweb house spider as well. It can be confusing with common names.

Tina Julich from Pink on April 03, 2011:

I've always known the Daddy Long Legs as a spider and not a flying insect. I guess that's why we should learn the proper zoological name for the creature we are studying.

Using organic methods instead of pesticides can allow the wildlife to flourish that will eat the 'bad' bugs.

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