It’s not a giant mosquito! In fact, there aren’t giant mosquitoes! In North America, mosquitoes max out at less than a dime in size, legs included. Keep the change! This is a crane fly!

Crane flies, as the name implies, are members of the order of Flies. There are other insects with “fly” in the name, but if the name doesn’t have a space, it is likely in a different order. If you’re a nerd like me that learned about them years ago, there are now several families of crane flies falling under the infraorder Tipulomorpha with fun names like winter crane flies, large crane flies, and hairy-eyed crane flies. I didn’t come up with the names, you aren’t allowed to be mad at me!

Crane flies are semi-aquatic or aquatic insects, and make up an important part of the nutrient cycle of an aquatic environment. As adults, they usually do not feed. But as larvae, crane flies can act as shredders of leaf material in the stream, collectors of stream detritus for food, or as predators of other aquatic organisms. For nerdy aquatic science purposes, they (and other aquatic insects, worms, mollusks, etc.) are referred to as “macroinvertebrates” because you can see them with your eye (macro) and they don’t have a spine (invertebrate). Macroinvertebrates make up a significant part of the diet for fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals that live near the water. So if you want fish, you have to have the leaves for the bugs to eat which means you need trees and shrubs near the water. It’s all connected!

But what does a crane fly larva look like? Again, them being a fly is your clue.

Crane fly larvae (Rob Frank)

If you love giant maggots this is your lucky day! They remind me of caterpillars but they lack any “true” legs but may possess “prolegs” which help them to move about at the bottom of streams.

Next time you see one, you can think about the journey they took to end up on your screen and please tell your friends there are no giant mosquitoes. I’d appreciate it!

If you see something blooming, leafing out, ripening, or otherwise changing in your woods, send us photos ( to include in next month’s Forests for the Bay newsletter for more phenological fun!