Winter day, but relatively warm and sunny? Sounds great for this little winter fly! When the weather cools, predators become sparse, making it the perfect time for this defenseless mosquito-look-a-like to come out and play…
While this skinny bug may look a bit like a mosquito, it’s actually a friendly fly and not at all interested in your blood. The adults really don’t feed at all (which is good since there’s not much to eat this time of year), and the larvae (baby flies) feed on decomposing organic matter. This gangly and ecologically helpful fly is the Winter Crane Fly (family: Trichoceridae). Also known as a Winter Midge or Winter Gnat, since it’s technically not a true Crane Fly (that’s a different fly family all together called Tipulidae).
There aren’t many insects that like to hang out during the colder winter months, but the Winter Crane Fly, as its name implies, is one of them. At least in more northern states. Those of you lucky ducks living in the south may not know what it’s like to spend several months every year waiting longingly for warm days and the return of your entertaining buggy friends to return… That could just be me though, lol. Then again, most of the 28 species of Winter Crane Fly found in North America only live in cooler climates, so if I were in a warmer state, I probably wouldn’t have found this guy. Or gal. Probably a gal, but I can’t tell since its wings are covering the distinguishing features.
Besides living in cooler climates, Winter Crane Flies generally likes moist habitats where there is plenty of rotting or fungus laden materials for their babies to eat. They can often be found around compost piles and sometimes in caves or sheltered areas where bats or rodents live. The babies are not above eating feces (aka poop), or even human corpses, if that’s where the eggs were laid. To try and convince the females to produce said babies and deposit the eggs in such gross (to us anyway) materials, the males will often form small clusters (or swarms if they are being annoying) to perform aerial dances. They have to impress the females quickly too, since many of the adult flies live less than a week.
The group dancing thing must do the trick though, since the flies are still around and still dancing. Maybe it’s the equivalent of a fly strip club? Some species of Winter Crane Fly females will be so impressed by the male’s dances, they’ll actually mate and lay their eggs in or under snow cover. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think any amount of dancing would convince me of a snow rendezvous. I know these flies like the cold, but brrr!
To learn more about Winter Crane Flies, check out:
- DiscoverWildLife - By a fly expert! (Dr. McAlister also gives excellent talks if you ever have the opportunity to hear her speak)
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