Adult flies of this family can be separated into two subfamilies and they are very different in appearance. Subfamily Bittacomorphinae, the phantom crane fly, is one of the most conspicuous and interesting of all local flies. Adult flies of this group have long dark legs, sometime banded with white. Species of the subfamily Ptychopterinae are more resemble to over-sized fungus gnats.
Bittacomorpha clavipes (Fabricius)
The common “phantom crane fly” may be easily recognized by the black and white banded legs and conspicuously swollen basitarsi. The adults are about 12-16 mm in size and are very characteristic of swampy areas, where they often can be observed drifting in the wind with the long legs extended to catch the breeze. While in copulation the insects often fly, the female ahead, the male trailing behind like the tail of a kite. When they alight on a plant stem, the female is invariably uppermost, the male often hanging free with none of its feet on a support (Alexander, 1920). Larvae are aquatic living in the rich organic vegetable matter in swamps.
|Bittacomorpha clavipes, (male)||Bittacomorpha clavipes, by Giff Beaton||Bittacomorpha clavipes, (female)|
|Bittacomorpha clavipes, male by Tom Murray||Bittacomorpha clavipes, female by Tom Murray|
Bittacomorphella jonesi (Johnson)
The adult fly of this species is the so-called “pigmy phantom crane fly” (8-10 mm) and can be found near springs or small streams in cold woods. The arrangement of black and white bands on their legs is distinctly different than that on the common phantom crane flies. The life history of this species is similar to that of the previous species. The picture below on the right is an image of Bittacomorphella pacifica from the west coast to compare with our local species, also notice the differences compared with the previous genus Bittacomorpha.
|Bittacomorphella jonesi||Bittacomorphella pacifica, by Jon Preston|
Ptychoptera quadrifasciata Say
Adults of this species are about 7-9 mm in size. They more resemble a large fungus-gnat than a crane fly. They have transparent wings and with numerous macrotrichia in the wing-tip cells. Their abdomen is black with basal segments ringed at proximal ends with yellow. This species is also an inhabitant of swampy areas usually from May to June and again in late August and early September. The immature stages are aquatic or nearly so, found mainly in saturated mud at the margins of streams or in swales. The larvae have a long retractile respiratory siphon at the posterior end, and the pupae are most unusual with one elongated breathing horn (20-25 mm) and one degenerated one (3-4 mm).
|Ptychoptera quadrifasciata, male||Ptychoptera quadrifasciata, by Erik Blosser||Ptychoptera quadrifasciata, female|
Protoplasa fitchii Osten Sacken
Its broad wings with prominent anal angles make this common “primitive crane fly” easily recognized. Its other characters include wings with five branches of the Radius vein; a single Anal vein; cell 1st M2 closed, elongate; a supernumerary cross vein in cell M3. This is the only species of this family existing in our area. Their wings have distinct brown cross bands bearing pale spots in the center of each band. The immature stages occur in wet sandy soil at stream margins. The adults were collected from herbaceous vegetation and low shrubbery near the margins of streams. This species is widely distributed in eastern North America from eastern Canada to northwestern Florida.
|Protoplasa fitchii, male||Protoplasa fitchii, female|
TIPULIDAE :: Tipulinae
Brachypremna dispellens (Walker)
This southern species ranges from Tropical Central and South America to New Jersey, and Indiana, Illinois in the Midwest. In the northeast, it has not been recorded north of New Jersey, so this represents a slightly northern extension of the known range. Adult flies 12-17 mm in length. The pleura are silvery white with narrow brown stripes. Legs are very long, the femora are brownish black and tibiae and tarsi are pale yellowish white. This species occurs in woodlands with streams and larvae are found in organic rich soil along streams. Adult males perform a vertical dance over a height of some four feet. One generation occurs in June and July in our area.
by Sasha Jade
by Lew Scharpf
|Larva of Brachypremna dispellens|
Ctenophora (Tanyptera) dorsalis Walker
Adult crane flies of this species are highly polished, and black, yellow or red in color. They superficially resemble ichneumonid wasps than other crane flies. Antennal segments of male branched (three branches on each segment) and of female either branched or serrate. The female of this species has elongated acicular ovipositor. They frequent open, wet or mixed woodlands. The larvae live in decaying wood of recently dead deciduous hardwood trees, often in prostrate trunks that are fairly sound.
This species exhibits extreme polymorphism in body color and body size of both sexes. The following images are of the same scale to show the ranges in body size (16-28 mm) and the color variation within species. The wing colors also vary from smoky-black, brown, brownish-yellow, to transparent. The two mating pair images below show copulation between two color forms.
Trichocera garretti Alexander
The common “winter crane flies” may be easily found during the fall and spring and likewise occurring outdoors on warm days in winter. They tend to fly in small swarms in sunlit places. They can also be found in caverns, mines and similar darkened places. Adults of winter crane flies can be easily recognized from common crane flies by their A2 veins which are shorter and strongly curved at apex and bent suddenly towards the wing margins (see images below). The larvae live in decaying vegetable matter, as beneath rotted leaves, in stored roots and tubers, in fungi, and in similar haunts showing organic decay (Alexander, 1942). The adults are about 7-9 mm in size, dark brown. Their legs are long and slender but do not break readily as in other crane flies.
Photo by Stephen Cresswell
by Richard Leung
by Tom Murray
by Tom Murray