The Giant Crane Fly

Guest Blogger: Mary S. Kuss, Life-long avid angler, licensed PA fishing guide, founder of the Delaware Valley Women’s Fly Fishing Association

Even if your knowledge of entomology is rather limited, it’s a virtual certainty that you’ve seen the adult form of the Giant Crane Fly. These are the huge, long-legged creatures that resemble a mosquito on steroids and are often seen buzzing around outdoor lights during the warm months of the year. They are, in fact, members of the order Diptera and thus related to mosquitoes, although thank heaven they do not bite!

The larvae are rather shy and retiring, and less likely to be seen by the average person. They are semi-aquatic and live in the moist soil and leaf litter along the edges of streams. If you’re an ice fisherman you may have used a bait called “spikes,” which are Giant Crane Fly larvae.

The first time I ever a Giant Crane Fly larva was at the Stroud Water Research Laboratory, along the White Clay Creek in Avondale, PA. I was there while a student at Widener University, conducting my senior research project. My study did not involve Giant Crane Fly larvae, but I found the work of the professional scientists there of great interest. One day I was wandering around the lab to see what the researchers were up to. I immediately noticed that someone had a kettle of water boiling on a hot plate. I had been schooled that it was very poor form to eat or drink in a laboratory, although I supposed that the pros might be a little less strict about this rule. But no one was making tea. One of the biologists took the kettle over to a Pyrex dish full of big, ugly looking larvae and poured the boiling water on them. I asked what the creatures were, and why they were being exposed to this treatment. I was told that Giant Crane Fly larvae were so tough that this was the best way to kill them relatively humanely. If they were sealed up in a vial of preservative, they would still be alive the next day!

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