Crane flies are the gawky, spindly creatures that sometimes flap awkwardly around your ceiling. While many of the 15,000 species are brown or tan, a few Oregon varieties have orange and yellow markings, including this Phoroctenia vittata I rescued from its recent swim in a water tank.

Crane flies have some remarkable traits. They shed legs when they’re caught by predators (it’s not like they need them for walking), and indeed people who work with them in museums often open drawers to find them littered with limbs. Crane flies spend only two percent of their lives as adults, and many adults don’t have working mouthparts because they don’t live long enough to need to eat. 

Ctenophorinae sub-family crane flies like this one have larvae that grow up inside, and eating, dead wood. Because the insects need healthy, full-spectrum forests to survive, they’re seen as positive bioindicators. Good news for Mount Pisgah!

The males of this species have impressive, antler-like antennae, as seen above. Cteno- is from the Greek for “comb,” and the highly branched, or pectinate in entomology-speak, organs help the males source out female pheromones. 

Females have a pointed abdomen for egg-laying. Even though they look like big mosquitoes and have the nickname “skeeter eaters,” neither males nor females bite or sting.

Not only is this crane fly shaped and colored to mimic a wasp, but it even sounded wasp-like as it tried to dry its wings. The buzzing was a bit threatening, even though I knew it was all a show.

Stay curious!

Karen Richards