The crane flies are the largest family of flies in the world. There are over 15,000 species worldwide, with 1600 species in North America and 600 species in New Zealand.
The Māori name, matua waeroa, means ‘king mosquito’. You could be forgiven for thinking crane flies are giant mosquitoes—their body shape is similar. But crane flies cannot bite. The adults of many species don’t eat at all, and those that do sip nectar.
Crane fly larvae are sometimes called leatherjackets, because their exoskeletons are thick and leathery. They are aquatic or live in wet soil or rotting vegetation. Most feed on dead plants, though there are a few predators among the aquatic larvae.
When we moved to Crazy Corner Farm, and I turned the vegetable garden for the first time, I found the wet end of the garden teeming with crane fly larvae. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Every shovelful of earth came up with at least ten larvae. It was truly impressive, and the chickens loved me for the handfuls of larvae I tossed to them that year. The larvae must not like cultivation, though, because I don’t find them in the vegetable garden anymore.
I find crane flies endearing—awkward and gangly, they remind me of teenage boys who’ve just gone through a growth spurt and aren’t quite comfortable with their larger dimensions. The analogy might not be so far off. Crane fly larvae are legless and live in confined spaces. When they become adults, they suddenly have six impossibly long legs, and are airborne. It must be terribly confusing.
I spotted this beauty on my office door this morning, sitting on the glass with the white curtain behind it. I couldn’t resist photographing it.