As the seasons change and springtime arrives in Texas, residents are greeted with many pleasant sights and sounds, such as the emergence of baseball games and the beautiful bluebonnet flowers. However, along with these joys comes the unwanted presence of insects, commonly referred to as mosquitoes. Although these large flies might look like mosquitoes, they are actually the crane fly, also known as mosquito hawks or skeeter eaters.
Despite their unnerving appearance, these delicate insects are completely harmless to humans and do not consume mosquitoes. Crane flies belong to the Tipulidae family of Diptera, or true flies, and are related to other insects such as mosquitoes and robber flies. Fortunately, they are among the gentlest of insects and do not bite humans.
Each year, these gentle insects make their presence known during the late winter/early spring months and are usually one of the first signs of the upcoming spring season. Crane flies thrive in warmer climates such as those found in Texas and Florida, where they can be found sipping sweet sugars from plants as nectar feeders. In fact, they may even assist in the pollination process.
This spring, a mild winter followed by a wet spring has led to a significant increase in the crane fly population. However, a recent cold snap may soon bring an end to their presence. These clumsy fliers tend to return during the fall as temperatures drop.
As adults, crane flies have very short lives, generally lasting only one to two weeks. Most crane fly species mature into adulthood, mate, and then die. Their larvae are found in moist soils and can live for upwards of three years, feeding on decaying organic matter.
Despite their abundance and visibility, crane flies are completely harmless and quite fragile. Bryant McDowell, an extension program specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife, jokingly refers to them as the Texas groundhog, a sign that warmer weather is on the way. These insects are attracted to lights and may accidentally end up inside homes, but they do not cause any harm and do not carry any diseases.
Although they might be mistaken for mosquitoes by some, crane flies can be distinguished by their larger size and the lack of scales on their wings. They do not reduce the mosquito population, but they do serve as a food source for various insectivores such as frogs, swallows, and armadillos.
To keep crane flies outside, it is recommended to ensure that window screens are in good condition and gaps in doors and windows are eliminated. If they do make their way inside, simply scoop them up and place them back outdoors. As a gentle reminder of the upcoming spring season, crane flies serve as an interesting and harmless presence in Texas.