Insects of Central Texas: What are Mosquito Hawks?

Crane Fly Close Up

If you live in Central Texas, you have no doubt heard of mosquito hawks. Perhaps you have heard of them referred to as skeeter eaters, or even daddy longlegs. They are large insects that look like mosquitoes and fly around your front door and windows in the early spring. They look terrifying, and many people are afraid of them because they believe they will bite. Nearly everyone believes that they eat mosquitoes.

It turns out that most of the ideas people have about mosquito hawks are not true. Let’s take a look at what these animals actually are.

What are they?

  • These insects are called crane flies. They can be any of a number of different species, and in fact, there are somewhere around 15,000 species in the world. They are, as the name suggests, a type of fly.

What do they eat?

  • Many of them don’t eat at all, especially as adults. Some do eat nectar or plant juices by sponging it up with a spongy mouthpart similar to the housefly, but most crane flies do all of their eating in the larval stage, and only live as adults for a few days. Their sole purpose as adults is to find a mate.

Do they bite?

  • No, they don’t. They don’t have any mouthparts that would allow them to bite.

Why are they always around my windows and doors?

  • That’s a great question and we don’t exactly know the answer. Since we know their only purpose is to find a mate, we can surmise that they are hanging out there because they know other crane flies will be there too! Or maybe they are trying to get somewhere and get confused by the light or by the windows. What they are NOT trying to do is get inside, or bother humans, as neither of those would be helpful in finding a mate and laying eggs.

Where do they lay eggs?

  • Females lay their eggs where conditions will be right for the larvae when they hatch. Crane fly larvae are called leatherjackets and they like to feed on rotting vegetation. So you will find them in ditches and damp areas where they will find decomposing leaves and other plant matter.

How big can they get?

  • With so many species out there, the size can vary pretty dramatically, but the wingspan of the larger species have been measured at 4.5 inches!

When can I expect to see them in Austin and the surrounding area?

  • They usually begin to emerge in February and March, just before we start to see mosquitoes becoming active.

What should we do about them?

  • There is nothing that we need to do about crane flies. They are food for birds and other animals, and they help break down decomposing plant materials. They are beneficial! We won’t blame you if you shoo them away from your door, but there is no need to call the Mosquito Squad. By mid to late March they will begin to die off, and then you will start to see the real mosquitoes, and THOSE insects are what we can help you with.

Further reading:

https://entomologytoday.org/2015/08/17/mosquito-hawk-skeeter-eater-giant-mosquito-no-no-and-no/

https://citybugs.tamu.edu/2016/03/15/crane-flies/