Tipula lanei crane fly.
This week’s crawly reminds us that there are a lot of species of crane flies. A lot. And some of them are positively goth. Meet the Tipula lanei crane fly.
Little is known about lanei, which you’d expect when it comes to such a mysterious-looking fly. There are only a handful of recorded sightings of this small (just under three-quarters of an inch) crane fly.
Before we go further, let’s look at their name. “Lanei” is the plural of lāneus which means “wool” or “woolen” in Latin. Why someone looked at this fly and thought “wool” then dropped a pluralized moniker on it is anyone’s guess. Also, Latin is weird. Counterintuitive that the singular has an “s”, and the plural doesn’t. But we digress…
Based on the few recorded sightings, we know that lanei lives in British Columbia, Washington and right here in Oregon. The pictured lanei was one of several hanging out around a sub-alpine natural spring in the Rogue River National Forest.
For a seldom seen crane fly, they are abundant in niche places in our very own “backyard.”
Like all crane flies, lanei depend on moist soil, forest leaves, wood litter and/or aquatic habitats associated with organic matter. Lanei larvae may be aquatic, living entirely underwater, or semi-aquatic, living in the boggy meadow around the spring.
Either way, their larvae are important in nutrient recycling of organic matter.
Because pest control companies have to make a living, you will often hear all crane flies described as “pests” specifically of lawns. They are not.
In fact, according to Colorado State University, only “two species of crane fly are considered pests of turfgrass in the United States. They are the European crane fly (Tipula paludosa), and the marsh crane fly (Tipula oleracea).”
That’s two out of 1,500 species of crane fly found in North America.
Moreover, well-maintained lawns can easily withstand the damage caused by feeding crane fly larvae. You may well have them in your lawn, but you’d never know.
Crane fly larvae are overall quite beneficial (even the potential “pest” species). As noted above, they are key for nutrient recycling. But wait, there’s more! The movement of larvae in the soil can open air pockets that increase aerobic microbial activity and fend off potentially harmful pathogens.
Also, they are a protein-packed food source for many critters. Animals as diverse as yellow jackets, birds and even skunks and raccoons love to dine on crane fly larvae.
Adult crane flies are also on the menu for many other arthropods as well as birds and mammals. So much so, it’s more unusual to see a crane fly with all six legs still attached, than with a couple/few missing.
Adult crane flies are masters of autotomy – the intentional dropping of an appendage. A special muscle allows the leg to snap off at the crane fly’s will under the right (or wrong?) circumstances.
Crane flies only live about a week once they’ve become winged adults, so they’ll sacrifice a leg without batting a proverbial eye if it helps them make the most of their short adult lifespan and get back to the business of finding a mate and producing the next generation.