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TIPULA / CRANE FLY TAXIDERMY

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Classification

Phylum Arthropoda

Class Insecta

Order Diptera

Family Tipulidae

Tribe Tipulini

Genus Tipula

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INSECT BIODIVERSITY (PDF)

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CRANE FLIES ( TIPULIDAE )

Crane fly is a common name referring to any member of the family Tipulidae of insects in the order Diptera, true flies in the superfamily Tipuloidea. Cylindrotominae, Limoniinae, and Pediciinae have been ranked as subfamilies of Tipulidae by most authors, though occasionally elevated to family rank. In the most recent classifications, only Pediciidae is now ranked as a separate family, due to considerations of paraphyly. They are also known as daddy-long-legs around the world, not to be confused with daddy-long-legs that refers to arachnids of the order Opiliones or the family Pholcidae. The larvae of crane flies are known commonly as leatherjackets.

Crane flies are found worldwide, though individual species usually have limited ranges. They are most diverse in the tropics, and are also common in northern latitudes and high elevations.

The Tipulidae sensu lato is one of the largest groups of flies, including over 15,000 species and subspecies in 525 genera and subgenera. Most crane flies were described by the entomologist Charles Paul Alexander, a fly specialist, in over 1000 research publications.

The adult crane fly, resembling an oversized mosquito, has a slender body and stilt-like legs that are deciduous, easily coming off the body. The wingspan is generally about 1.0 to 6.5 cm. The antennae have up to 39 segments. It is also characterized by a V-shaped suture on the back of the thorax and by its wing venation. The rostrum is long; in some species it is as long as the head and thorax together.

The adult female usually contains mature eggs as she emerges from her pupa, and often mates immediately if a male is available. Males also search for females by walking or flying. Copulation takes a few minutes to hours and may be accomplished in flight. Adults have a lifespan of 10 to 15 days. The female immediately oviposits, usually in wet soil or mats of algae. Some lay eggs on the surface of a water body or in dry soils, and some reportedly simply drop them in flight. Most crane fly eggs are black in color. They often have a filament, which may help anchor the egg in wet or aquatic environments.

Crane fly larvae (leatherjackets) have been observed in many habitat types on dry land and in water, including marine, brackish, and fresh water. They are cylindrical in shape, but taper toward the front end, and the head capsule is often retracted into the thorax. The abdomen may be smooth, lined with hairs, or studded with projections or welt-like spots. Projections may occur around the spiracles. Larvae may eat algae, microflora, and living or decomposing plant matter, including wood. Some are predatory.

Larval habitats include all kinds of freshwater, semiaquatic environments. Some Tipulinae including Dolichopeza Curtis are found in moist to wet cushions of mosses or liverworts. Ctenophora Meigen species are found in decaying wood or sodden logs. Nephrotoma Meigen and Tipula Linnaeus larvae are found in dry soils of pasturelands, lawns, and steppe. Tipulidae larvae are also found in rich organic earth and mud, in wet spots in woods where the humus is saturated, in leaf litter or mud, decaying plant materials, or fruits in various stages of putrefaction.

Larvae can be important in the soil ecosystem, because they process organic material and increase microbial activity. Larvae and adults are also valuable prey items for many animals, including insects, spiders, fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals.

The larvae of some species are carnivorous on other small invertebrates, sometimes including mosquito larvae. Many adults, however, have such short lifespans that they do not eat at all.

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