Complaints about nuisance airborne insects that resemble “giant mosquitoes” are becoming more common among residents in the northeastern states. These insects are commonly referred to as “crane flies,” and several thousand species have been described. In fact, a now deceased researcher from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Dr. Charles Alexander, is credited with discovering and describing more than 13,000 crane fly species. Many of Dr. Alexander’s crane fly specimens are now housed within the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, which is home to the largest crane fly collection in the world. While there is little doubt that Dr. Alexander had a passion for crane flies, modern Massachusetts residents are growing to hate the insects due to their habit of swarming in large numbers around outdoor patio lights

Crane flies have a reputation for being dangerous insects, and many false claims about crane flies are circulated regularly, including the claim that crane flies spread disease. Another commonly circulated myth states that crane flies are the most venomous insects in the world. Crane flies have also earned many misleading nicknames, including mosquito hawks, daddy longlegs, mosquito eaters, leather jackets, gallinippers, and galliwhoppers. The term “leather jacket” is typically reserved for crane fly larvae, while the term “daddy long legs” and “galliwhoppers” refers to adult crane flies, which slightly resemble long-legged cellar spiders. The common misconception about crane flies is that they are highly venomous, but lack the mouthparts to pierce human skin and therefore cannot deliver their potentially fatal venom into the human bloodstream, just like the common misconception concerning cellar spiders.

In reality, crane flies are not venomous, but the second claim is partly true, as crane flies lack the mouthparts to inflict bites on human skin. While crane flies are not dangerous, their bulky bodies and two inch wingspan can make swarms a nuisance to humans. Crane flies are attracted to wet soil, artificial light sources and rotting plant matter on residential properties, and swarms often make their way into homes. Despite their occasional nuisance behavior, crane flies are considered ecologically beneficial insects that do not require any sort of pest control treatment. Crane fly swarms will eventually disappear from residential areas, and adults only live for a period of 10 to 15 days.

Has a crane fly swarm ever appeared in your neighborhood?