Crane Fly - Tipula bicornis
Crane Flies - Infraorder Tipulomorpha /
Family Tipulidae -- crane flies, tipules
with 4,269 recognized species. Live adult crane flies photographed in the wild at DuPage County, Illinois

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Adult crane flies are sluggish fliers and are often abundant in moist woodlands and around water, usually near places where their larval life is spent.  They occur mainly in spring and fall, but species of wingless, snow crane flies (Chionea) appear in the winter.  Adult crane flies are most active in the cooler part of the day, usually around dusk.  Adult males are more abundant at the beginning of the flight period while females are more numerous toward the end. 

Although individual adults have a relatively short life span of 10 to 15 days, the flight period for each species can last from 25-30 days.  The main functions of the adult stage are mating and egg-laying.  Feeding is less important, and probably water is the most pressing need. Species with elongated rostrum (Geranomyia, Elephantomyia, Toxorhina) have been reported visiting flowers, probably for nectars.

Crane Fly - Tipula bicornis
Tipulidae, often called crane flies in their adult stage, is the largest family of true flies.  Crane flies form a highly diverse group of insects, both in number of species and in larval habitats, which extend from aquatic to terrestrial.  The body plan or morphology of crane flies is rather simple.  An elongate body, one pair of narrow wings, and long, slender legs characterize them.  The body size ranges from 5 to 50 mm and can be described as mosquito-like.  They are often mistaken for mosquitoes, but they belong to a group of harmless flies and can be distinguished from all other true flies by the transverse V-shaped groove on the dorsal part of the thorax.

In North America, more than 1,500 species of crane flies have been described and over 300 species are known from Pennsylvania.  This number probably represents only about two-thirds of the estimated actual number for the state, and much more precise taxonomic studies are needed.

Crane flies serve several important roles in the ecosystem.  Most importantly, adult and larval crane flies are food for many animals such as birds, fish, frogs, lizards, spiders and other insects.  In addition, the larvae are detritus feeders that break down organic matter in various habitats such as streams and forest floors thereby enriching the soil, renewing and modifying the microhabitat for other invertebrate species. 

Some crane flies require special habitat conditions, and their presence or absence can be used as an indicator of environmental quality.  Fishermen use larvae of some large crane flies as bait.  Several species of crane flies are important agricultural pests; their larvae feed on seedlings of field crops and if abundant can be destructive to lawns, rangelands, rice fields, and golf courses.
-- Chen Young, Crane Flies of Pennsylvania

References

  1. Crane Flies of Pennsylvania, Tipula furca
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Flies of North America - Order Diptera. Flies are prevalent in virtually all habitats, with over 16,000 species in North America. Flies can be distinguished from all other insects in that they only have one pair of normal wings. Most flies have compound eyes and mouthparts adapted for piercing, lapping or sucking fluids.
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