West Virginia Crane Flies

Family Tipulidae

Tipulid Crane Flies are sometimes mistaken for mosquitos, though they are much, much larger (and they do not bite). Characteristics of the family include very long slender legs, slender bodies, and often a coloration that is yellow to brown.

Tipulidae is closely related to Limoniidae (and in fact some experts treat Limoniidae as a subfamily within Tipulidae). To see which traits these two families share and which traits are different, see our How to Tell Tipulidae from Limoniidae page.

As with so many fly families, larvae in Tipulidae require a moist environment to develop. This may be wet moss, a damp rotting log, moist soil, humid leaf litter, or an actual stream or pond. Each species has its own special larval requirements.

Adult Crane Flies in West Virginia are most often found in woodlands, often near a small stream. Other habitats include drier woods, forest edges, and sometimes meadows.

Crane Flies are found in most parts of the world, though Afrotropical and Australasian species are fewer in number. Fossil Crane flies date back some 240 million years, and in fact de Jong et al. state that “Present-day general distribution patterns of many higher taxa of [Crane Flies] probably have a Pangean or Gondwanan origin.” The relative paucity of African species probably is related to Africa’s “early separation from the remainder of Gondwana” (de Jong et al., 2007).

Family Limoniidae

Two key characters of family Limoniidae are:

  • antennae of (usually) 14 or 16 segments
  • fourth (terminal) segment of the maxillary palpus shorter than, or about equal to, the third segment.

Limoniidae was formerly a subfamily of Tipulidae, and some experts still treat it as such.

As separate families, Limoniidae is king, with 885 Nearctic species, compared with “only” 573 species in Tipulidae. Worldwide, Limoniids can boast 10,430 species, while Tipulids number 4188 described species.

It is hard to mention species numbers without mentioning the redoubtable Crane Fly expert C. P. Alexander, who described 11,000 of the currently recognized 15,200 species of Tipulidae, Limoniidae, and a few small related families. Alexander wrote his first description in 1910 and his last in 1981 (de Jong et al., 2007).

Many of West Virginia’s Limoniid Crane Flies are aquatic during the larval period, then move to stream or pond margins or to drier areas for pupation. These Limoniids include some in the genera Limonia, Erioptera, and Pedicia. In genus Gnophomyia the immatures develop in decaying wood, while in Gonomyia immatures develop in soil.

For a look at differences between Tipulid and Limoniid Crane flies, see our How to Tell Tipulidae from Limoniidae page.