Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Ernie Cowan 

Mosquito Hawks Invade


Last updated 4/19/2019 at 9:14am

Yes, it’s been an unusually wet winter in Borrego Springs and as a result there were lots of wildflowers, sphinx moths, green caterpillars, painted lady butterflies, migrating hawks and now an invasion of mosquitoes large enough to carry off a small child.

That’s a wonderful story, the kind that might win the annual Liar’s Contest, but in reality, those large mosquito-like critters now invading the community are actually harmless insects known as crane flies. Very few species of these two-inch bugs are even considered pests.

These large, long legged creatures that look like flying cranes, are now hovering around lights at night as they are very attracted to lights, might be buzzing against your screens trying to escape, climbing a wall in your house, or clogging swimming pool filters.

They live in most regions of the world, including North America, and they thrive in wetland areas and other regions with plenty of water and vegetation.

There are many misconceptions about the crane fly.

They have been confused as venomous, when that is totally untrue. Also sometimes called a mosquito hawk or skeeter eater, some mistakenly think it is a mosquito predator. They do not eat mosquitoes.

While that would be nice, the adult crane flies actually eat very little. Its primary role is to breed and produce eggs for the next generation of larvae. In their larval stage, they can be harmful invasive pest. Since these insects in their larval stage feed on plant matter, they can cause damage to lawns and pastures, as well as crops of vegetables, fruits and other vegetation.

As adults, their lifespan is measured in days or at most two weeks.

Often described as gentle insects, they may sip nectar from flowers or sugars from plants and that benefits plant pollination in the process. Some species even lack mouth parts entirely.

Adult crane flies live relatively short lives, surviving primarily on fat reserves they accumulated while underground in their larval stage as legless, worm-like creatures.

It’s easy to see why many people’s first impression of the crane fly is that larger mosquitoes have arrived. But mosquitoes don’t get that big, and the crane fly lacks the ability to bore into your flesh like its pesky cousin, and can’t transmit any diseases.

Additionally, the crane flies’ wings lack scales found on mosquitoes, but most people are not going to get close enough to analyze that subtle difference.

So, if they are not mosquitoes, are harmless and gentle, do they have an important role in nature?

Smaller mammals, fish and spiders will benefit from the arrival of clouds of crane flies, and the migrating Swainson’s hawk and other insect-eating birds will also appreciate this high protein source of food.

As mentioned earlier, the crane fly is harmless. The adults are here briefly for romance and nothing else.

When they happen to come inside the home, they typically bounce repeatedly against the walls and ceilings as if looking for a way back out.

If you encounter one in your home, they can be safely handled. Simply cup it in your hands, carry it outside and release them where it can fulfill its destiny.

Or, you can simply add to the lore of Borrego’s unique environment by telling your out of town visitors to keep close track of their small children or risk their being carried away by mosquito hawks.

Might as well have a little fun with it.

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