There are hundreds of species of crane flies in North America, but nearly all look like giant mosquitoes. They have slender bodies, very long legs, and one pair of wings that are often held out at a 45-degree angle to the body. Just behind the wings, attached to the body, are two small, antennae-like appendages called halteres. These function like gyroscopes during the crane fly’s weak and wavering flights. The mouthparts look like a snout.
Female crane flies have thicker abdomens, which have a pointed (and harmless) tip for egg-depositing. Males have pincerlike claspers at the tip of the abdomen.
Larvae are essentially tan or gray grubs: segmented caterpillars with a definite head and with tiny, fleshy projections at the hind end.
Adult crane flies can be distinguished from mosquitoes by their lack of a piercing, tubelike mouth, lack of scales on the wing veins, and a V-shaped groove on the thorax (the body part behind the head, from which the wings emerge).
Habitat and Conservation
Crane flies do not bite and are completely harmless.
The larvae of some species can be lawn pests.
The aquatic larvae of most other species are sensitive to pollution and a decline in their numbers can indicate (for example) that pesticide runoff from lawn treatments is present and harming stream life.
An old-time Ozark name for a crane fly was "gallynipper." The word was also used for several other types of flying insects, too.