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|Nephrotoma appendiculata (spotted crane fly)|
|Tipula sp. larva|
|Nephrotoma appendiculata (spotted crane fly)|
|Tipula sp. larva|
The crane fly is a member of the family of insects in the order Diptera, also known as the Gallynapper, Daddy longlegs or Mosquito Hawk, the true flies in the superfamily Tipuloidea. This page is about Tipulidae sensu stricto. Cylindrotomidae, Limoniidae, Pediciidae are ranked as subfamilies of Tipulidae by some authors. Here they are treated separately as families.
The Tipulidae sensu lato is one of the largest groups of flies, including over 15,000 species and subspecies in 525 genera and subgenera. The family sensu stricto includes over 4000 species in 115 genera. Most crane flies were described by the entomologist Charles Paul Alexander, a fly specialist, in over 1000 research publications.
The adult crane fly, resembling an oversized mosquito, has a slender body and stilt-like legs that are deciduous, easily coming off the body. The wingspan is generally about 1 to 6.5 centimeters. The antennae have up to 39 segments. It is also characterized by a V-shaped suture on the back of the thorax and by its wing venation. The rostrum is long; in some species it is as long as the head and thorax together.
For terms see Morphology of Diptera.
Tipulidae are large to medium-sized flies (7 mm-35 mm) with long elongate legs, wings and abdomen. The colour is yellow, brown or grey. Ocelli are absent. The rostrum (a snout) is short to very short with a beak-like point called the nasus (rarely absent). The apical segment of the maxillary palpi is flagelliform and much longer than the subapical segment. The antennae have 13 segments, (exceptionally 14 -19). These are whorled, serrate, or ctenidial. There is a distinct V-shaped suture between the between the mesonotal prescutum and scutum (near the level of the wing bases). The wings are monochromatic, longitudinally striped or marbled. In females the wings are sometimes rudimentary. The sub-costal vein (Sc) joins through Sc2 with the radial vein, Sc1 is at most a short stump. There are four, rarely (when R2is reduced) three branches of the radial vein merging into the alar margin. The discoidal wing cell is usually present. The wing has 2 anal veins. Sternite 9 of the male genitalia has, with few exceptions, two pairs of appendages. Sometimes appendages are also present on sternite 8. The female ovipositor has sclerotized valves and the cerci have a smooth or dentate lower margin. The valves are sometimes modified into thick bristles or short teeth.
The larva is elongate, usually cylindrical.The posterior two-thirds of the head capsule is enclosed or retracted within the prothoracic segment. The larva is metapneustic (with only one pair of spiracles, these on the anal segment of the abdomen) but often with vestigial lateral spiracles (rarely apneustic). The head capsule is sclerotized anteriorly and deeply incised ventrally and often dorsolaterally.The mandibles are opposed and move in the horizontal or oblique plane. The abdominal segments have transverse creeping welts. The terminal segments of the abdomen are glabrous, often partially sclerotized and bearing posterior spiracles. The spiracular disc is usually surrounded by lobe-like projections and anal papillae or lobes.
The adult female usually contains mature eggs as she emerges from her pupa, and often mates immediately if a male is available. Males also search for females by walking or flying. Copulation takes a few minutes to hours and may be accomplished in flight. Adults have a life span of 10 to 15 days. The female immediately oviposits, usually in wet soil or mats of algae. Some lay eggs on the surface of a water body or in dry soils, and some reportedly simply drop them in flight. Most crane fly eggs are black in color. They often have a filament, which may help anchor the egg in wet or aquatic environments.
Crane fly larvae (leatherjackets) have been observed in many habitat types on dry land and in water, including marine, brackish, and fresh water. They are cylindrical in shape but taper toward the front end, and the head capsule is often retracted into the thorax. The abdomen may be smooth, lined with hairs, or studded with projections or welt-like spots. There may be projections around the spiracles. Larvae may eat algae, microflora, and living or decomposing plant matter, including wood. Some are predatory.
Larval habitats include all kinds of freshwater, semi-aquatic environments. Some Tipulinae including Dolichopeza Curtis are found in moist to wet cushions of mosses or liverworts. Ctenophora Meigen is found in decaying wood or sodden logs. Nephrotoma Meigen and Tipula Linnaeus larvae are found in dry soils of pasturelands, lawns, and steppe.Tipulidae larvae are also found in rich organic earth and mud, in wet spots in woods where the humus is saturated, in leaf litter or mud, decaying plant materials or fruits in various stages of putrefaction.
Larvae can be important in the soil ecosystem, because they process organic material and increase microbial activity. Larvae and adults are also valuable prey items for many animals, including insects, spiders, fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals.
The larvae of some species are carnivorous on other small invertebrates, sometimes including mosquito larvae. Many adults, however, have such short life spans that they do not eat at all.
Because many species of Tipulidae are very abundant and large, they are extensively preyed upon by birds, mammals, fishes, and other vertebrates, as well as by spiders and predacious insects.
The common European crane fly, Tipula paludosa, and the marsh crane fly, T. oleracea, are agricultural pests in Europe. Crane fly larvae of economic importance live in the top layers of soil where they feed on the roots, root hairs, crown, and, sometimes, the leaves of crops, stunting their growth or killing the plants. They are pests on a variety of commodities. Since the late 1900s, T. paludosa and T. oleracea have become invasive in the US. The larvae have been observed on many crops, including vegetables, fruits, cereals, pasture, lawn grasses, and ornamental plants.
In 1935, Lord's Cricket Ground in London was among venues affected by leatherjackets. Several thousand were collected by ground staff and burned, because they caused bald patches on the wicket and the pitch took unaccustomed spin for much of the season.
Tipulidae sensu lato are a very old group of Diptera close to Mecoptera  They have a number of derived characters and are perhaps (with the Trichoceridae) the sister group of all other Diptera.Limoniidae and Tipulidae are sister groups and Cylindrotominae appears to be a relict group that was much better represented in the Tertiary. Tipulidae probably evolved from ancestors in the Upper Jurassic the Architipulidae.Limoniidae and Tipulidae differentiated in the mid-late Paleocene 
Numerous other common names have been applied to the crane fly. Many of the names are more or less regional in the US, including mosquito hawk, mosquito eater, gallinipper, and gollywhopper. They are also known as daddy-long-legs around the world. - not to be confused with daddy-long-legs that refers to arachnids of the order Opiliones or the family Pholcidae. The larvae of crane flies are known commonly as leatherjackets.
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