organism of the month sept08 – cranefly

head and shoulders of a craneflyCraneflies, or daddy-long-legs, mark each September by teeming in vast numbers as if it were a fantastic and original idea. Daddylonglegs is a ridiculous name and I’ve no idea where that’s from. Even so, I think that name contributes to the sinister mystique of these huge flies.

Lots of people find them scary. Unpredictable in motion, incomprehensible in purpose, arachnamorphic. Easier to catch than spiders, I discovered early in childhood, but to be avoided, I thought, having noticed a spiky rear end. But that’s not a sting, it’s what the females use as an egglaying tool (ovipositor). They carry fearsome but, according to Ricky Gervais, useless mouthparts which can’t adminster the most deadly poison known to man!

Now that you’re reassured, let’s have a look at them. This one I found exhausted. So tired, she allowed a small spider to slowly ensnare her.

now that's a big lunch

Every year people ask me: What are craneflies good for? Are they useful for something? Well, come on, they must be important, craneflies being the largest taxanomic group of flies. There are thousands of species, all sorts of colours and shapes.

They’re food for a vast amount of other animals such as Starling, who hunt them as grubs in the earth. Others, such as the Giant Eastern Cranefly, spend their larval life in water and, as you can imagine, are a vital food source to other aquatic life. How generous of the cranefly clan to become prey to so many! But in being so numerous, and because some daddylongleg grubs (leatherjackets) eat plant roots the hordes have become seen as an enemy by farmers and gardeners.

But hang on – many types are detritivores and because the root eaters live in the soil, craneflies are a powerful army of nutrient recyclers, helping to balance the books of soil fertility. Can’t we think of them as heroes? Or indispensible at least.

copulation hanging around

Article and photos copyright © 2008 Jason P Ball. Movie embedded from YouTube

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