Tuesday, 20 May 2014


We are all familiar with craneflies. Love them or hate them - and many people are frightened by them - they are unmistakable with their excessively long legs which, being like those of a crane, give these insects their name.

Although many people are fearful of them, they are harmless to humans, even though females appear to be armed with a long sting. Plants have more reason to fear them as the larvae of craneflies will feed on roots and may inflict significant damage.

I find them tricky to identify. A book on these insects has been written but lack of funding is holding up printing and publication, so we enthusiasts are making do with keys on increasingly dog-eared and heavily amended worksheets. As a consequence I tend to avoid craneflies and, when out in search of insects, pretend that I haven't noticed them.

One species is however instantly recognisable. Tipula maxima is Britain's biggest and, to my mind, most spectacular cranefly. It is quite common but I last saw one about ten years ago at Bradlaugh Fields, Northampton - until, that is, a few days ago. In a recent blog, "Ramsden Corner", I briefly mentioned how I had seen one but not captured it. Now, today, I have seen another - on a window frame in our living room!

Tipula maxima.  Byfield, 20 May, 2014

The slender pointed "tail" shows that it is a female. This slender structure is insinuated into the soil; eggs pass through it (it is known as an ovipositor) and soon the larvae emerge to seek out plant roots and begin a new life. The adult measures some 60-65 mm from wingtip to wingtip and, with its heavily patterned wings it is, as I say, immediately recognisable.

So, a wait of about ten years and then two in ten days. Perhaps it should be called the Service Bus Cranefly.

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