Skip to main content

Mosquito Hawks? Giant Mosquitoes? Nope. They're Crane Flies! 

Close-up view of a crane fly on a wall
A female crane fly at rest on a wall. The tip of a female cranefly's abdomen is pointy.

Around late winter and early spring the District will start getting reports of GIANT mosquitoes.  Fortunately, these are not actually mosquitoes but a type of fly known as the crane fly. There are 1,458 species of crane flies that belong in the insect family Tipulidae.  Within this family, mosquitoes are a distant relative. 

Crane flies range in size from 1/16 inch to 1-1/2 inches long, and they have very long, delicate legs. The larger species have a wingspan of up to 3-inches and are also known as “mosquito hawks,” "giant mosquitoes", “skeeter eaters,” or “daddy long-legs.” Contrary to common belief, they DO NOT feed on blood or eat mosquitoes. They lack the long, needle-like sucking mouth parts of a mosquito. Some adult crane flies have short mouthparts for feeding on flower nectar, but most species have no functional mouthparts and focus only on reproducing during their short adult life stage.

A male crane fly.
The tip of the male crane fly's abdomen is blunt.

Crane flies are valuable food items for bats, birds, lizards, spiders, and predatory insects. Skunks and other animals may damage lawns while digging for crane fly larvae which are called "leatherjackets".

Photo of a crane fly larva
A "leatherjacket" , which is the nickname given to the crane fly larva. Leatherjackets live in the soil underneath grass and turf where they feed on the roots.
A crane fly pupa.
The pupa is the final  immature stage of the crane fly life cycle.  The pupal stage takes place in the soil and is the transition phase between the larva and adult fly. You can see the wings developing in the center-left.
Photo, from an insect horror movie from the 1950s, of a giant mosquito on top of a car trying to get to a man and woman inside. inside.
Rest assured, and to repeat, crane flies are not "giant mosquitoes".