It all began with a fishing spider moving across the surface of a river. But there was more to the story, as in a meal being consumed. And so a few of us recently went in for a closer look.
It was then that we saw wings below the spider that reflected the sun’s light. And very long, spindly legs unlike the spider’s rather robust and hairy deck of eight.
And it suddenly occurred to us that the spider was dining on a crane fly. Crane flies intrigue me for a variety of reasons. They are true flies and go through complete metamorphosis from egg to larva that molts several times to pupa to adult, but like some other adult species (think mayfly), they don’t have true mouth parts and their sole purpose at this stage is to mate and procreate.
Some folks are afraid of crane flies, and it’s understandable. They look like giant mosquitoes. And are attracted to light so if you leave an outdoor lantern on by the front door, you might find them hovering and then sneaking into the house. But, only the larval form eats and they are decomposers of organic material.
In that same river, it soon became evident that there was a lot of crane fly activity taking place. Tipula caloptera larvae are aquatic and so it makes sense that they would choose some river cobbles to support them while they canoodled.
Click on the arrow to take a peek at their efforts.
And a few cobbles over another was depositing eggs by sticking her ovipositor into the river bed repeatedly. Some crane flies deposit eggs in water and others in moist soil near water.
Again, you may click on the arrow to watch her in action.
It wasn’t enough to enjoy them in their river setting, but here at home as well. So the river action was with a large group of students on Thursday. And on Friday, a couple of hours before a major thunderstorm (that thankfully transformed 97˚ to this morning’s 48˚ and I feel alive again), I looked out a kitchen window and spied this beauty.
Meet Tipula trivitata. It’s by wing venation that a crane fly can best be identified to species.
Since crane flies are true flies, they have only two wings. But do you see the little knob at the tip of what appears to be a filament that the arrow points to? And a second on the other behind the wing on the right-hand side? Those are considered reduced wings or halteres.
Spotting these this week made me think of crane flies I’ve met along this journey, including Tipula tricolor depositing eggs among mosses.
And another of the same species resting upon the fertile frond of a Cinnamon Fern. Adult crane flies rest most of the time, that is when they are not cannot engaged in the art of begetting offspring. As adults they don’t eat. So any energy they have must be saved up from their larval form. Within a few days of mating they die, so their adult life span is not long. Maybe a week or so.
Lest we think they are only spring and summer fliers, there is also a winter crane fly, and this one made the mistake of flying too close to the winter works of a Pileated Woodpecker’s hole that had flowed with sap.
As cool as all of these species are, my favorite crane fly is the Phantom Crane Fly, Bittacomorpha clavipes.
Their wings are much shorter, but those legs! And to watch one fly almost like a little square block carried by the wind–it’s a sight worth seeing and one which you won’t forget.
I do love dragonflies, but I’ll also be craning for these other fliers as spring heads toward summer and even into the fall.
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