With all the rain this winter we’ve had an emergence of large insects that look somewhat like a giant mosquitoes or what my neighbors called "long-legged wasps." Here is what they are seeing (the thumb is for scale).
They have nothing to be concerned about. This big, fragile fly is called a crane fly.
Crane fly adults are often over an inch long with two flimsy wings that they hold straight out from their sides when at rest. Although their appearance is unusual, crane flies are truly gentle giants of the insect world. They don’t bite or sting. In fact, they do not even feed as adults. Their only interest is finding other crane flies.
The photo of the adult was from a few years ago. This afternoon my son found the larva while digging in some soil.
The larval stages of crane flies are sometimes called leatherjackets because of the leathery-looking covering over their bodies. I was able to capture the end of its abdomen as it crawled away, so you can see the tubes it breathes with when it is under water. You can see the outline best in the shadow behind it.
The larvae munch on dead leaves piled up in wet areas, part of nature’s clean up crew. With all the rain storms we’ve had lately, the crane flies have had a lot to eat and so we have a lot of them.
Interestingly, the larva emitted a brownish substance from the tip of its abdomen as it crawled away, almost like the “chewing tobacco” that grasshoppers make from their mouths if you pick them. I’ve never read anything about crane fly larvae having chemical defenses, but that’s what it looked like.
I'm afraid this larva was moving too fast for a good photo. For better views, you might want to check these truly spectacular photos of crane flies.