CRANE FLIES LIVE UP TO THEIR NAME
your favorite insect? Butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies would
certainly be in most peoples top 10. Praying mantises and walking
sticks are also popular choices. Among beetles, the largest group of
insects in the world, some top contenders are June bugs, ladybugs and
click beetles. Katydids and tree crickets might make the cut for folks
who enjoy musical night sounds. And for night sights, lightning bugs
top the list. Honey bees would be the choice of some. If the phantom
crane fly were better known, it would surely be a contender.
watched these peculiar creatures in the swamp last week as they drifted
over an area of dark mud. They have tiny wings, but their primary means
of aerial flotation comes from their six long legs, some segments of
which are expanded and filled with breathing tubes.
extend outward from the body like wheel spokes to catch the faintest
breeze. Phantom crane flies appear to float through the air. Their legs
are alternating bands of black and white so that as they move from sunlight
to shadow the dark markings disappear and only the lighter color is
visible. If you are alongside a swamp and see an eerie specter of white
dots drifting silently through the air, like part of a wafting spider
web, you probably are looking at a phantom crane fly. It is a mesmerizing
belong to the order Diptera, the true flies, which have more than a
million species. But in contrast to some of their kin, such as mosquitoes,
horseflies and houseflies that have hundreds or thousands of species,
those in the phantom crane fly family number only a handful.
eastern United States, most are likely to belong to a single species.
Another distinction between these elegant spirits of the swamp and many
other Diptera is that they are completely inoffensive no biting,
no buzzing, no stinging. If you are fortunate enough to have one land
on your arm, it may depart like a dandelion blowball with the next puff
of wind before you can even photograph it.
crane flies on your list of harmless wildlife to look for on your next
stroll near a swamp, stream or other natural wetland area with trees
overhead that make it dark during the day. In my experience, they stay
low to the ground and a mucky surface is the preferred habitat, where
they lay their eggs for larvae to hatch before developing into pupae.
thrive on bits of decaying vegetation and diatoms, a type of algae,
which are among the ingredients that make up what we call swamp mud.
We should never be judgmental about a natural habitat, even if we find
it yucky, because virtually all are important to some living organisms.
also appreciate all scavengers of the natural world, including vultures,
opossums and phantom crane flies. Without them, the world would be an
unpleasant place to live. On the flip side, I doubt if any predator
makes a living eating adult phantom crane flies although the larvae
are probably tasty to other denizens of swamp mud.
develop a search image for phantom crane flies, you will be able to
locate them readily if they are present. They drift at the mercy of
the wind, and none will move faster than you walk unless the wind is
more than a breeze. Our natural habitats have much to offer for those
who take the time to look. Even if you dont see a phantom crane
fly on your visit to the edge of a dark wetland, check out the other
sights and sounds around you. You might find a new favorite insect.
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