For many of us, we tend to lump all flying insects into the same category, viewing them as pesky creatures to be swatted away. Also, insects that look alike must be alike, right? This mindset surely causes insect experts and entomologists to cringe.
Such is the case for the crane fly and the mosquito. To the untrained eye, one could easily be mistaken for the other. However, taking a deeper look at the two, although they have a few similarities, they are vastly different.
Let’s take a moment to explore the characteristics, lifecycle, and behavior of these two insects. Along the way, we’ll discuss some common misconceptions about the two, as well as the effect each one has on the environment.
|Appearance||Long, thin bodies(7-35 cm)||Long, thin bodies (3-6 cm)|
|Appearance||Long, spindly legs||Feather-like antennae|
|Appearance||Ovipositor (resembles a stinger)||Striped abdomen, legs, and wings|
|Appearance||Long, slender wings||Long, thin wings|
|Lifecycle||One year or more||30 – 40 days|
|Diet||Larvae: Algae, microflora, decaying plants, roots, grass, rotting fruit, aquatic insect larvae||Larvae: Algae, microbes|
|Diet||Adults: nectar or nothing at all||Males: Plant sap, nectar, fruits, vegetables, Females: blood|
|Bites||Do not bite||Only females bite|
Mosquitoes: Just a nuisance?
Anyone who spends time outdoors in warmer weather has likely met up with mosquitoes a time or two. They ruin campfires, interrupt fishing trips, and turn a leisurely stroll through the woods into a sprint to get home. Our swatting and slapping seems to have no effect as they persistently go after us for their next meal.
Although mosquitoes can be extremely annoying, many people forget just how dangerous they really are. Mosquito-related illnesses affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide each year, with fatality rates in the millions.
Characteristics of the mosquito:
Mosquitoes are insects that belong to the order Diptera, meaning they are two-winged flies. Their anatomy includes a tube-like mouthpiece used for sucking blood, a slender thorax around three to six centimeters long, and a specialized abdomen that can hold three times its own weight in blood.
Life cycle of the mosquito
A mosquito begins life as an egg. Mosquito eggs must be laid in or near stagnant water. Ponds, mud puddles, bird baths and old tires full of water can all become home to a mosquito’s eggs.
After the eggs hatch, mosquito larvae emerge. The larvae feed continuously, preferring algae, bacteria, or other microbes found in their watery environment. They grow and molt four times until they reach the pupal stage.
The pupa tumbles through the water until finally morphing its way into adulthood. At this time, the pupa splits open and the adult mosquito flies away. The entire journey from egg to adult averages around five to fourteen days.
Adult mosquitoes and mosquito bites:
Adult males typically live ten days. They feed on plant nectar and do not bite or consume blood. Their sole purpose is for reproduction.
Females live around 42-56 days and are the culprits responsible for those red, itchy welts. They require the protein from a blood meal to produce their eggs, which they steal from humans and animals.
Does a mosquito actually bite?
One common misconception about mosquitoes is that they “bite.” In reality, mosquitoes do not bite; they simply suck out our blood.
First, females use their sharp proboscis to pierce the skin. Then, specialized mouthparts will probe around, looking for easy access to a capillary. If a suitable spot is found, she will inject her saliva into the host, which helps prevent the blood from clotting on its way out. Finally, blood is siphoned up and the deed is done.
That split second when a mosquito injects saliva into her host is the point in which deadly diseases are spread. If the person she feasted on before you suffered from a mosquito-borne illness, her saliva-injection could deliver disease-causing microorganisms directly to your bloodstream.
Because of this, the mosquito is considered to be the most dangerous living creature in the world.
What about the crane fly?
Crane flies are also from the order Diptera, but they are classified in the family Tipulidae. Long, narrow bodies, slender wings, and six long spindly legs make them look similar to gigantic, mutant mosquitoes. Their last body segment appears to have a large stinger, but it’s only a specialized part used to deposit eggs into the ground.
Life cycle of the crane fly
Crane flies go through much the same process as mosquitoes. They begin as eggs, progress through the various stages, and emerge as adults. However, their journey looks very different.
Crane flies may lay their eggs in a variety of environments. Some choose the edges of ponds, streams, or other damp places. Others lay their eggs in algae or in areas with lush vegetation. A few species may choose dry ground. After the eggs hatch, the larvae emerge.
Crane fly larvae, called leatherjackets, can live up to one year. These slug-like creatures have a tough, outer skin. They burrow underground or make their home in decaying wood and plant life. Some are found in dry soil or rotting fruits.
Eating constantly, they feed on roots, algae, microflora, and decaying plants. Some are even predatory, eating other living aquatic insects and larvae. Many times, they spend the winter underground and emerge in middle to late spring as a pupa.
Crane fly larvae: Friend or foe?
Crane fly larvae can benefit the environment by breaking down dead and decaying plant life, which produces healthy soil. They are also an important part of the food chain, occupying the position of both predator and prey.
However, an infestation of crane fly larvae can cause damage and destruction to yards, golf courses, and crops if left unchecked.
Adult crane flies
Adults tend to live very short lives; usually ten to fifteen days or less. You may find adult crane flies flocking to a back porch light or flitting about in your garage, bouncing up and down between the wall and ceiling.
While the larvae eat incessantly, adults eat very little. Some may drink a little plant nectar, while others do not eat at all. Their main purpose is to find a mate. After reproducing, they will soon die.
Why are crane flies called mosquito hawks or mosquito eaters? Do they eat mosquitoes?
Some people refer to crane flies as mosquito hawks, mosquito eaters, or even daddy-long-legs. There are also common misconceptions about the crane fly. Some people think they are actually large mosquitoes. Others believe they eat mosquitoes. Finally, some claim the crane fly has poisonous venom.
All of these theories are false. Although they look a little intimidating, adult crane flies are completely harmless. They have no ability to bite or sting and possess no poisonous venom. The nicknames of “mosquito hawk” and “mosquito eater” are inaccurate, to say the least.
The mosquito and crane fly have a few similarities. To most of us, they resemble each other. Scientifically speaking, both are “true flies” with two wings. They prefer similar habitats and both insects complete the stages of their life cycles in roughly the same sequence of events.
However, the similarities end there. Adult female mosquitoes have the potential to spread deadly diseases with their “bite.” Adult crane flies are harmless; they cannot bite anything, and they certainly don’t eat mosquitoes. Although the crane fly larvae can be a bit destructive, this still pales in comparison to the devastation a mosquito can cause.