A crane fly is any member of the dipteran superfamily Tipuloidea, which contains the living families Cylindrotomidae, Limoniidae, Pediciidae and Tipulidae, as well as several extinct families. "Winter crane flies", members of the family Trichoceridae, are sufficiently different from the typical crane flies of Tipuloidea to be excluded from the superfamily Tipuloidea, and are placed as their sister group within Tipulomorpha.

Crane fly
Temporal range: Middle Triassic – Present
Nephrotoma appendiculata (spotted crane fly)
Crane fly larva
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Diptera
Infraorder: Tipulomorpha
Superfamily: Tipuloidea
Latreille, 1802

The classification of crane flies has been varied in the past, with some or all of these families treated as subfamilies,[1] but the following classification is currently accepted.[2][3][4][5][6] (Species counts are approximate, and vary over time.)[4]

Infraorder Tipulomorpha
Superfamily Tipuloidea (Typical Crane Flies)
Family Cylindrotomidae (Cylindrotomid or Long-Bodied Crane Flies, 67 species)
Family Limoniidae (Limoniid Crane Flies, 10,786 species, possibly paraphyletic)
Family Pediciidae (Hairy-eyed Crane Flies, 498 species)
Family Tipulidae (Large Crane Flies, 4,351 species)
Family Trichoceridae (Winter Crane Flies)

In colloquial speech, crane flies are known as mosquito hawks or "skeeter-eaters", though they do not actually prey on adult mosquitos or other insects.[7][8] They are also sometimes called "daddy longlegs", a name which is also used for arachnids of the family Pholcidae and the order Opiliones. The larvae of crane flies are known commonly as leatherjackets.[7]

Crane flies first appeared during the Middle Triassic, around 245 million years ago, making them one of the oldest known groups of flies,[9] and are found worldwide, though individual species usually have limited ranges. They are most diverse in the tropics but are also common in northern latitudes and high elevations.[10]

More than 15,500 species and over 500 genera of crane flies have been described, the majority by Charles Paul Alexander, who published descriptions of 10,890 new species and subspecies, and 256 new genera and subgenera over a period of 71 years, from 1910 to 1981.[4][11]


Head of a Tipula sp.



An adult crane fly, resembling an oversized male mosquito, typically has a slender body and long, stilt-like legs that are deciduous, easily coming off the body.[12][2] Like other insects, their wings are marked with wing interference patterns which vary among species, thus are useful for species identification.[13] They occur in moist, temperate environments such as vegetation near lakes and streams.[2] They generally do not feed, but some species consume nectar, pollen and/or water.[14]

The wingspan is generally about 1.0 to 6.5 cm (12 to 2+12 in), though some species of Holorusia can reach 11 cm (4+14 in).[15] The antennae have up to 19 segments.[7] It is also characterized by a V-shaped suture or groove on the back of the thorax (mesonotum) and by its wing venation.[10] The rostrum is long and in some species as long as the head and thorax together.[16]

Larvae occur in various habitats including marshes, springs, decaying wood, moist soil, leaf litter, fungi, vertebrate nests and vegetation. They usually feed on decaying plant matter and microbes associated with this, but some species instead feed on living plants, fungi or other invertebrates.[12]


Wing of a crane fly

Tipuloidea are medium to large-sized flies (7–35 mm, 141+12 in) with elongated legs, wings, and abdomen. Their colour is yellow, brown or grey. Ocelli are absent. The rostrum (a snout) is short to very short with a beak-like point called the nasus (rarely absent). The apical segment of the maxillary palpi is flagelliform (whip-like) and much longer than the subapical segment. The antennae have 13 segments (exceptionally 14–19). These are whorled, serrate, or ctenidial (comb-like). There is a distinct V-shaped suture between the mesonotal prescutum and scutum (near the level of the wing bases). The wings are monochromatic, longitudinally striped or marbled. In females the wings are sometimes rudimentary. The sub-costal vein (Sc) joins through Sc2 with the radial vein, Sc1 is at most a short stump. There are four, rarely (when R2 is reduced) three branches of the radial vein merging into the alar margin. The discoidal wing cell is usually present. The wing has two anal veins. Sternite 9 of the male genitalia has, with few exceptions, two pairs of appendages. Sometimes appendages are also present on sternite 8. The female ovipositor has sclerotized valves and the cerci have a smooth or dentate lower margin. The valves are sometimes modified into thick bristles or short teeth.

The larva is elongated, usually cylindrical. The posterior two-thirds of the head capsule is enclosed or retracted within the prothoracic segment. The larva is metapneustic (with only one pair of spiracles, these on the anal segment of the abdomen), but often with vestigial lateral spiracles (rarely apneustic). The head capsule is sclerotized anteriorly and deeply incised ventrally and often dorsolaterally. The mandibles are opposed and move in the horizontal or oblique plane. The abdominal segments have transverse creeping welts. The terminal segments of the abdomen are glabrous, often partially sclerotized and bearing posterior spiracles. The spiracular disc is usually surrounded by lobe-like projections and anal papillae or lobes.



A pair of crane flies (Tipulidae) mating
Crane fly exiting pupa
Mating craneflies— the light brown one with bipectinate antennae is male

Adults have a lifespan of 10 to 15 days.[17] The adult female usually contains mature eggs as she emerges from her pupa, and often mates immediately if a male is available. Males also search for females by walking or flying. Copulation takes a few minutes to hours and may be accomplished in flight. The female immediately oviposits, usually in wet soil or mats of algae. Some lay eggs on the surface of a water body or in dry soils, and some reportedly simply drop them in flight. Most crane fly eggs are black in color. They often have a filament, which may help anchor the egg in wet or aquatic environments.[11]

Crane fly larvae (leatherjackets) have been observed in many habitat types on dry land and in water,[11] including marine, brackish, and fresh water.[16] They are cylindrical in shape, but taper toward the front end, and the head capsule is often retracted into the thorax. The abdomen may be smooth, lined with hairs, or studded with projections or welt-like spots. Projections may occur around the spiracles.[16] Larvae may eat algae, microflora, and living or decomposing plant matter, including wood. Some are predatory.[10][11]


A collection of crane flies

Larval habitats include all kinds of freshwater, semiaquatic environments. Some Tipuloidea, including Dolichopeza, are found in moist to wet cushions of mosses or liverworts. Ctenophora species are found in decaying wood or sodden logs. Nephrotoma and Tipula larvae are found in dry soils of pasturelands, lawns, and steppe. Tipuloidea larvae are also found in rich organic earth and mud, in wet spots in woods where the humus is saturated, in leaf litter or mud, decaying plant materials, or fruits in various stages of putrefaction.

Larvae can be important in the soil ecosystem, because they process organic material and increase microbial activity.[11] Larvae and adults are also valuable prey items for many animals, including insects, spiders, fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals.[16]

Adult crane flies may be used for transport by aquatic species of the mite family Ascidae. This is known as phoresis.[18]

Pest status

The thorax of a crane fly

Some members of the tipulid genus Tipula, such as the European crane fly, Tipula paludosa and the marsh crane fly T. oleracea are agricultural pests in Europe. The larvae of these species live in the top layers of soil where they feed on the roots, root hairs, crown, and sometimes the leaves of crops, stunting their growth or killing the plants. They are pests on a variety of commodities. Since the late 1900s, T. paludosa and T. oleracea have become invasive in the United States.[19][20][21] The larvae have been observed on many crops, including vegetables, fruits, cereals, pasture, lawn grasses, and ornamental plants.

In 1935, Lord's Cricket Ground in London was among venues affected by leatherjackets. Several thousand were collected by ground staff and burned, because they caused bald patches on the pitch and the pitch took unaccustomed spin for much of the season.[22]


Tipulidae with large antennae

The phylogenetic position of the Tipuloidea remains uncertain. The classical viewpoint that they are an early branch of Diptera[23][24]—perhaps (with the Trichoceridae) the sister group of all other Diptera—is giving way to modern views that they are more highly derived.[25] This is thanks to evidence from molecular studies, which is consistent with the more derived larval characters similar to those of 'higher' Diptera.[26] The Pediciidae and Tipulidae are sister groups (the "limoniids" are a paraphyletic clade).[12] Specifically, Limoniidae has recently been treated by numerous authors at the rank of family, but subsequent phylogenetic analyses revealed that the remaining groups of tipulids render the group paraphyletic.[12] The Cylindrotomidae appear to be a relict group that was much better represented in the Tertiary.[27] Tipulidae probably evolved from ancestors in the Upper Jurassic, the Architipulidae, and representatives of the Limoniidae are known from the Upper Triassic.

Common names


Numerous common names have been applied to the crane fly. Many of the names are more or less regional in the U.S., including mosquito hawk, mosquito eater, gallinipper, and gollywhopper.[28] They are also known as "daddy longlegs" in English-speaking countries outside the U.S.,[7] not to be confused with the U.S. usages of "daddy long legs" that refer to either arachnids of the order Opiliones or the family Pholcidae. The larvae of crane flies are known commonly as leatherjackets.[7]

They are also known as Jenny long legs in Scotland.[29] In Ireland, they are generally called 'daddy long legs' in English, whereas in Irish they are commonly known as Pilib an Gheataire, which means Skinny Philip.[29][30]



There is an enduring urban legend that crane flies are the most venomous insects in the world, however they have neither venom nor the ability to bite.[31] The myth probably arose due to their being confused with the cellar spider as they are also informally called "daddy longlegs", and although the arachnid does possess venom, it is not especially potent.[32]

Despite widely held beliefs that adult crane flies (or "mosquito hawks") prey on mosquito populations, the adult crane fly is anatomically incapable of killing or consuming other insects.[33] Although the adults of some species may feed on nectar, the adults of many species have such short lifespans that they do not eat at all.[34]

See also



  1. ^ Alexander C.P., Byers G.W. (1981) Tipulidae. in: McAlpine J.F. et al. (Ed.), Manual of Nearctic Diptera. Agriculture Canada, Ottawa, pp. 153–1902 ISBN 0-660-10731-7 pdf Archived 2013-12-01 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c Zhang, Xiao; Kang, Zehui; Mao, Meng; Li, Xuankun; Cameron, Stephen L.; de Jong, Herman; Wang, Mengqing; Yang, Ding (2016). "Comparative Mt Genomics of the Tipuloidea (Diptera: Nematocera: Tipulomorpha) and Its Implications for the Phylogeny of the Tipulomorpha". PLOS ONE. 11 (6): e0158167. Bibcode:2016PLoSO..1158167Z. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0158167. PMC 4920351. PMID 27341029.
  3. ^ Kolcsár, L-P; Oosterbroek, P; Gavryushin, DI; Olsen, KM; et al. (2021). "Contribution to the knowledge of Limoniidae (Diptera: Tipuloidea): first records of 244 species from various European countries". Biodiversity Data Journal. 9: e67085. doi:10.3897/BDJ.9.e67085. PMC 9848614. PMID 36761998.
  4. ^ a b c Oosterbroek, Pjotr (2023). "Catalogue of the Craneflies of the World". Naturalis Biodiversity Center. Retrieved 2023-06-13.
  5. ^ Zhang, Bing; Gao, Shang; Cao, Yike; Chang, Wencheng; Yang, Ding (2019). "The mitochondrial genome of Tipula (Formotipula) melanomera gracilispina (Diptera: Tipulidae)". Mitochondrial DNA Part B, Resources. 4: 240–241. doi:10.1080/23802359.2018.1546136.
  6. ^ "Tipulidae family Information". BugGuide.net. Retrieved 2023-06-13.
  7. ^ a b c d e Watson, L. and M. J. Dallwitz. 2003 onwards. Tipulidae. British Insects: The Families of Diptera. Version: 1 January 2012.
  8. ^ "Do Mosquito Hawks Eat Mosquitoes?". endmosquitoes.com. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  9. ^ Lukashevich, Elena D.; Ribeiro, Guilherme C. (2019-04-18). "Mesozoic fossils and the phylogeny of Tipulomorpha (Insecta: Diptera)". Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. 17 (8): 635–652. Bibcode:2019JSPal..17..635L. doi:10.1080/14772019.2018.1448899. ISSN 1477-2019.
  10. ^ a b c Pritchard, G (1983). "Biology of Tipulidae" (PDF). Annual Review of Entomology. 28 (1): 1–22. doi:10.1146/annurev.en.28.010183.000245. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-01-12. Retrieved 2013-10-08.
  11. ^ a b c d e Oosterbroek, P. Superfamily Tipuloidea, Family Tipulidae. Chapter 2 In: Evenhuis, N. L. (Ed.) Catalog of the Diptera of the Australasian and Oceanian Regions, Issue 86 of Bernice P. Bishop Museum Special Publication. Apollo Press. 1989.
  12. ^ a b c d Petersen, Matthew J.; Bertone, Matthew A.; Wiegmann, Brian M.; Courtney, Gregory W. (2010). "Phylogenetic synthesis of morphological and molecular data reveals new insights into the higher-level classification of Tipuloidea (Diptera)". Systematic Entomology. 35 (3): 526–545. Bibcode:2010SysEn..35..526P. doi:10.1111/j.1365-3113.2010.00524.x. S2CID 86724439.
  13. ^ Conrow, Robert T.; Gelhaus, Jon K. (2022-05-01). "Wing interference patterns are consistent and sexually dimorphic in the four families of crane flies (Diptera, Tipuloidea)". ZooKeys (1080): 135–163. Bibcode:2022ZooK.1080..135C. doi:10.3897/zookeys.1080.69060. ISSN 1313-2970. PMC 8755705. PMID 35068968.
  14. ^ Rodrigues, Lucas; Ortega, Ileana; Vieira, Rony; Carrasco, Daiane; Proietti, Maíra (2019). "Crane flies (Diptera, Tipuloidea) from southern Neotropical salt marshes: survey with DNA barcoding". Iheringia. Série Zoologia. 109: e2019013. doi:10.1590/1678-4766e2019013. ISSN 1678-4766.
  15. ^ Louise Moon (25 April 2018). "'World's biggest' mosquito with 11 cm wing span found in southwest China". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  16. ^ a b c d de Jong, Herman; Oosterbroek, Pjotr; Gelhaus, Jon; Reusch, Herbert; Young, Chen (2008). "Global diversity of crane flies (Insecta, Diptera: Tipulidea or Tipulidae sensu lato) in freshwater" (PDF). Hydrobiologia. 595 (1): 457–467. doi:10.1007/s10750-007-9131-0. S2CID 34927837. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-10-11. Retrieved 2013-10-08.
  17. ^ "Crane Flies :: Introduction". Archived from the original on 2017-07-09. Retrieved 2013-09-23.
  18. ^ Smith, Ian M.; Smith, Bruce P.; Cook, David R. (2001), "Water Mites (Hydrachnida) and Other Arachnids", Ecology and Classification of North American Freshwater Invertebrates, Elsevier, pp. 551–659, doi:10.1016/b978-012690647-9/50017-x, ISBN 978-0-12-690647-9, retrieved 2022-10-06
  19. ^ Rao, Sujaya; Listona, Aaron; Cramptonb, Lora; Takeyasu, Joyce (2006). "Identification of Larvae of Exotic Tipula paludosa (Diptera: Tipulidae) and T. oleracea in North America Using Mitochondrial cytB Sequences". Annals of the Entomological Society of America. 99 (1): 33–40. doi:10.1603/0013-8746(2006)099[0033:IOLOET]2.0.CO;2. S2CID 85635147.
  20. ^ Blackshaw, R.P.; Coll, C. (1999). "Economically important leatherjackets of grassland and cereals: biology, impact and control" (PDF). Integrated Pest Management Reviews. 4 (2): 145–162. doi:10.1023/A:1009625724013. S2CID 80918734. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-01-15. Retrieved 2019-08-29.
  21. ^ Jackson D. M, Campbell R. L. Biology of the European crane fly, Meigen, in western Washington (Tipulidae: Diptera). Washington State University Technical Bull. No. 81. 1975.
  22. ^ A. Ward (1999). Cricket's Strangest Matches (1998 ed.). Robson Books, London. p. 111. ISBN 978-1-86105-293-3.
  23. ^ Rohdendorf, B. 1974. The Historical Development of Diptera. Edmonton: Univ. Alberta.
  24. ^ Savchenko, E. N. 1966. Phylogeny and systematics of the Tipulidae. Fauna Ukraini 14:63–88. In Russian.
  25. ^ "Australian National Insect Collection (ANIC) Home". anic.csiro.au. Retrieved 2023-01-04.
  26. ^ Gullan, P. J., Cranston, P. S. 2014. The insects: an outline of entomology. 5th edition. West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell.
  27. ^ Hennig, W. 1950. Die Larvenformen der Dipteren, Arb. 2. Berlin: Akad. Verlag.
  28. ^ Cassidy, Frederic Gomes (1985). Dictionary of American Regional English. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-20511-6.
  29. ^ a b Helena Horton (2021-09-22). "Is the UK really seeing a record daddy long legs invasion?". the Guardian. Retrieved 2023-01-04.
  30. ^ "Foclóir Gaeilge–Béarla (Ó Dónaill): Crane-fly". www.teanglann.ie. Retrieved 2023-09-24.
  31. ^ "Could record 200 billion daddy-long-legs hit UK? - CBBC Newsround". Retrieved 2023-01-04.
  32. ^ Ryan, Nicky (2013-10-20). "Debunked: Are Daddy Longlegs the most poisonous spiders in the world?". TheJournal.ie. Retrieved 2023-01-04.
  33. ^ Mertz, Leslie (August 17, 2015). "Mosquito Hawk? Skeeter Eater? Giant Mosquito? No, No, and No". Entomology Today. Entomological Society of America.
  34. ^ Blake Newton. "Crane Flies of Kentucky – University of Kentucky Entomology".

Further reading

  • R. L. Coe, Paul Freeman & P. F. Mattingly Nematocera: families Tipulidae to Chironomidae (Tipulidae). Handbooks for the Identification of British Insects Vol 9 Part 2 i. pdf
  • J.F. McAlpine, B.V. Petersen, G.E. Shewell, H.J. Teskey, J.R. Vockeroth, D.M. Wood. Eds. 1987 Manual of Nearctic Diptera Volume 1 Research Branch Agriculture Canada, 1987 pdf key to Nearctic genera
  • Pierre C.,1924, Diptères: Tipulidae Faune de France n° 8 Bibliotheque Virtuelle Numerique Out of date but online at no cost. In French.
  • E. N. Savchenko Family Tipulidae in Bei-Bienko, G. Ya, 1988 Keys to the insects of the European Part of the USSR Volume 5 (Diptera) Part 2 English edition. Keys to Palaearctic species but now needs revision.

Species lists