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'Skeeter eaters' don't really eat mosquitoes, but they do serve an important purpose

The mosquito-looking insects have appeared in large numbers this spring, harmless and incredibly helpful.
Credit: Rick Rysso
Crane flies, which have many nicknames, most notably 'skeeter eater,' have appeared in large numbers this spring. Despite the nickname, they do not eat mosquitoes, but they do serve a very important purpose.

TEXAS, USA — Thousands of North Texans are dealing with squatters; uninvited guests that have moved in without even paying rent.

Anyone who has opened a door has probably welcomed many of the pesky flying bugs inside.

They look somewhat like mosquitoes, but they’re not.

“The common name is crane fly,” said Alison Ravenscraft, assistant professor of biology at UT-Arlington and a self-described ‘bug nerd.’ “When I came to Texas I heard skeeter eater, mosquito hawk and I’ve also heard daddy long legs.”

Whatever they’re called, Ravenscraft says you may have seen a lot more of them this spring and there’s a reason for that.

“We had a pretty mild winter and a wet spring,” she said.

Those are the perfect conditions for crane flies to mature from the larvae and pupal stage to full-grown, flying adults. In the larval stage, crane flies can survive up to three years. Ravenscraft says many of the adult crane flies we’re seeing now may have simply been larvae, patiently waiting years for the right conditions.

Although some people think they look like large mosquitos, they’re not. However, once crane flies appear, mosquitos are soon to follow.

That’s what often leads to one of the biggest myths about crane flies. Contrary to their nickname, ‘skeeter eaters,’ they do not eat mosquitos. In fact, as an adult, they don’t really eat anything at all.

“They don’t even have the mouth parts to do it,” Ravenscraft said. “If they eat anything they might take a little sip of flower nectar and that’s about it.”

Much of a crane fly’s eating happens during the larval stage.

Even if adult crane flies could eat mosquitos, they likely wouldn’t live long enough to do so. As adults, their lifespan is usually about two weeks, meaning they’re usually long gone by the time mosquitos show up.

An adult crane fly’s sole purpose is pretty much just to mate, in order to produce new larvae and continue the cycle of life.

Ravenscraft says having more larvae is incredibly important to the ecosystem.

“They help decompose our dying plants and also they’re an important food source early in the spring before a lot of other animals have something to eat,” she said.

That’s why it’s a good idea to think twice before going on a killing spree. They may be annoying, but they’re completely harmless to humans.

“They don’t mean to be a pest,” Ravenscraft said. “They’re the big friendly helium balloon of bugs. They get blown around, bump into you accidentally and they don’t mean it.”

She says, if you can tolerate them for a few weeks, then let them be and let them continue doing their part for the ecosystem.

In other words, it’s okay to let them move in -- because mother nature will definitely pay you back.

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