CRANEFLY - September 2020
Updated: Nov 18, 2020
Often called a Daddy Long Legs, along with the completely unrelated Harvestmen who are arachnids! There are actually a number of different gangly craneflies on the wing throughout the year but this month sees the mass hatching of probably our most common and larger species, Tipula paulosa but will also answer to Cranefly or Daddy Long Legs.The easiest way to see these guys is to sit andwait by a porch light, they usually coming crashing into one at some point, alternatively go for a walk in long damp grass and one or two are almost guaranteed to stumble up into the air, looking like they are struggling to get airborne with all those limbs.
Like all flies they start life in a larval stage, to find their dull grey maggots, known as ‘leatherjackets,’ check out short grass or mossy areas close to the edges of steams or ponds. They rarely eat after pupating into the familiar dangly adult, so at their leatherjacket stage they have to gorge themselves, they live just underneath the surface of the soil feeding on detritus, roots and plant material they drag down. After many months of eating they pupate in the soil before emerging as the not so elegant long legged Cranefly, leaving a crunchy black/brown cask poking halfway out of the soil.
The female Cranefly is larger than the male but with shorter wings than her abdomen. Whilst males are generally smaller with relatively longer wings. Females produce between 200 and 300 eggs and emerge as an adult insect full of eggs, ready to meet a male. Because they are burdened with all these eggs, females are not able to fly very far, mating must take place as soon as possible, so the eggs can be laid. 14 days later the larvae (leatherjackets) hatch and start feeding immediately. The leatherjackets spend the winter in the soil and can continue to be active in temperatures as low as 5°C.
The larvae of the Cranefly (leatherjackets) play an important role in the food chain of many other animals. They have a long list of predators, including mammals such as shrews, hedgehogs and moles. Many birds, including blackbirds, starlings and woodpeckers will also hunt leatherjackets. As adults they are still tempting targets for birds, which might explain why their thin long legs are so weakly attached to their abdomen and can easily break off to escape an attack. There are a lot of myths around craneflies; they’re sometimes said to be one of the most venomous insects, but this is not true, they are actually completely harmless. They don't have any poison! And although they superficially look like mosquitos, they do not bite