Crane Flies

Crane Flies

A typical crane fly on the outside of a building. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

All my life, I’ve known them as mosquito hawks. Built like extra-large, spindly-legged versions of mosquitoes, they look a bit intimidating. However, growing up we were told they were harmless and actually fed solely on mosquitoes. In the days before Google, I just accepted it as fact and was glad to see them around.

In early March, there was a bit of an invasion of these insects. I started seeing them everywhere outdoors and inside my office building. They are slow movers, bouncing in the air more than flying. After several days of seeing them everywhere, though, they pretty much disappeared.

Several crane flies appear to have met their demise inside my office building. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Like much folk wisdom accrued through my life, the story of the mosquito hawk is not totally true. They are harmless, that much is correct. While many people do know them as mosquito hawks, the accepted common name is the crane fly. Crane flies come in a wide variety of sizes and colors, ranging as some of the smallest and largest species in the fly Order, Diptera. Their diversity is rather mind-blowing, with the Family Tipulidae including about 15,000 species of crane flies worldwide.

Crane fly larvae live in aquatic environments and feed on decaying plant material. Photo credit: North Carolina State University

As for being voracious predators of mosquitoes, we have no such luck. Crane flies barely eat at all, because their adult life span is as short as those two weeks I recently noticed them around. They spend most of their lives as aquatic larvae, living in streams, pond edges, and rotting vegetation. Adults do not have the right mouth anatomy to eat other insect prey, instead drinking only by sponging up water in dew form or taking nectar from plants. Their primary purpose in adulthood is to complete the mating process. Females lay eggs near water, hence the location as larvae. After this hedonistic spring break experience of adult life, they die.

Crane flies, in both larval and adult forms, are popular snacks for other wildlife. The adults are easy targets for birds and bats. The larvae, which in some species are as large as a pinky finger, are tasty morsels for fish and amphibians.  During their larval existence, crane flies ingest debris, helping with the decomposition process and filtering the water bodies they live in. Despite their short life span, crane flies make an outsized contribution to the food web.


Unwelcome Guests: Managing Kudzu Bugs in Your Florida Home

Unwelcome Guests: Managing Kudzu Bugs in Your Florida Home

The kudzu bug, an invasive pest, has been a significant concern in soybean cultivation in the southeastern United States since 2009, particularly in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama. Beyond its impact on agriculture, the kudzu bug proves to be a nuisance to homeowners and outdoor enthusiasts during both early spring and fall. In the winter months, the kudzu bug becomes inactive and actively seeks overwintering sites in the fall.

Credit: Worrel Diedrick, Florida A&M University.

If you observed a substantial number of small, greenish, round, flattened insects on the exterior walls of your home, there is a likelihood that you, like many others in your community, were visited by the kudzu bug. This relatively new invasive insect from Asia has become an unexpected guest for numerous residents and business owners, as it landed on homes and other structures in search of suitable overwintering sites.

Fortunately, the overwintering flights of the kudzu bug are relatively brief, lasting only a few days in the fall. However, if your residence becomes one of their chosen landing sites and they manage to infiltrate by crawling into cracks and crevices, the issue may escalate to the interior of your dwelling, posing a more significant problem than their presence on the exterior.

Kudzu Bug Habitat

Outdoors, kudzu bugs tend to congregate in gaps under the bark of trees, gaps under the siding of homes, and higher elevations such as fascia boards and gutters on the edges of homes. They are attracted to light-colored surfaces, with a particular fondness for white. Kudzu bugs will congregate on white siding, white cars, or white attire. In early fall, they often gather on light-colored exterior walls before moving into gaps and cracks, seeking shelter and warmth for overwintering.

To mitigate the possibility of infestation, the most effective preventive measure is to seal all openings where kudzu bugs could potentially enter your dwelling using caulk. While insecticides might be considered for control, it’s crucial to note that this option is challenging to time accurately and often proves mostly ineffective in addressing the problem.

For the more information specific to kudzu bug in Florida, consult your extension office.

Supporting information for this article can also be found by clicking the link below.

The Kudzu Bug – UF/IFAS Pest Alert (

Kudzu Bugs – Will They Overwinter in Your Neighborhood? – UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center

Twig Pruners and Girdlers

Twig Pruners and Girdlers

Not all fall color is a good thing. This statement is especially true when it comes to twig pruners and twig girdlers. These two species of longhorned beetles can certainly disappoint your grand expectations of a beautiful array of fall color. Both species cause the tips of twigs to fall to the ground in late summer, sometimes leaving your trees in an undesirable form.

Twig Pruners

The twig pruner (Elaphidionoides villosus or Anelaphus villosus) is a small longhorned beetle that attacks numerous species of hardwoods. It is usually classified as a secondary pest of declining trees and shrubs. Female twig pruners lay their eggs in late spring at the leaf axils. When the eggs hatch, the grubs bore into twigs and continue to bore as they mature. The larvae then chew concentric rings just underneath the bark. The infested twigs and branches eventually drop to the ground with the larvae inside. The larvae pupate inside the fallen twig throughout the winter.

An adult twig pruner
An adult twig pruner. Photo Credit: University of Georgia

Twig Girdlers

The twig girdler (Oncideres cingulata) is a small longhorned beetle that invades many species of hardwoods. Female twig girdlers lay their eggs in late summer in small twigs (about 3/8 inch diameter) that are covered with a thin layer of bark. The female chews a concentric ring around the outside of the twig, causing the end of the twig to die. The female chews a small notch in the dead twig and lays her eggs. After the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the dead twigs and develop into adults before chewing their way out. The adults fly away to new host trees.

An adult twig girdler
An adult twig girdler. Photo Credit: Lacy L. Hyche, Auburn University

Management and Control

It’s important to plant the right plant in the right place. Healthy trees and shrubs are the best defense against insect pests. Twig pruners and twig girdlers live in dying or dead twigs and branches. If you have trees that have suffered damage from these pests you will notice an abundance of fallen twig ends around the base of your trees. Rake and remove fallen twigs from around the trees and destroy or dispose them. This will help reduce pruner and girdler numbers in subsequent years.

Mole Crickets

Mole Crickets

A mole cricket has a face only a mother could love. They are so strange looking, in fact, that in the past week I’ve had two people ask me what they were. They have large, round, helmet-like heads, undersized eyes, and massive front claws used for digging. Unlike your garden-variety crickets, which really don’t cause any major damage to home landscapes, the mole cricket is quite the turfgrass menace. Instead of hopping about aboveground, they tunnel beneath the lawn and feast on the roots and leaves of grass, often destroying entire yards. They are also vegetable pests, going after tomatoes, cabbage, and peppers.

A young mole cricket. Its round head and large front claws distinguish it from other cricket species. Photo credit: Lucy Adams Stevenson
A) Horizontal and B) vertical view of a generalized tawny mole cricket burrow showing
1) horn, 2) 1st constriction, 3) bulb, 4) 2nd constriction, 5) turn-around,
6) surface tunnel, and 7) deep tunnel. Figure 1 from Nickerson et al. 1979. Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am. 72(3):438-440.

Mole crickets spend most of their time below ground and form burrows for hiding, laying eggs, and traversing through their territory. In mating season, males create a monotone song that averages 88 decibels—as loud as a motorcycle! The call comes from their burrows, which have funnel-like openings that expand at the surface, creating amplification comparable to a horn.

Beneficial larra wasp parasitizing a tawny mole cricket. Photo credit: UF IFAS

The tawny mole cricket (Neoscapteriscus vicinus) is the most common to our area and is an invasive species from South America. UF IFAS has had a specific research program related to mole cricket management since the late 1970’s. One successful outcome of this program has been the introduction of a biological control species, the larra wasp (Larra bicolor). The wasp manages mole cricket populations by stinging and temporarily paralyzing crickets. A female will then deposit an egg into the mole cricket’s body. The cricket recovers and goes about its daily routine until the egg hatches, at which point the larval wasp feeds on and eventually kills the mole cricket. Along with the wasp and release of flies and a nematode that also manage mole crickets, the biocontrol methods introduced between the 1980’s and 2004 have resulted in a 95% reduction in mole cricket populations in north Florida.

If you are seeing mole crickets, you can attract larra wasps to your property by planting shrubby false buttonweed or partridge pea plants, which the wasps feed on. If you have serious damage from mole crickets, check out this thorough Mole Cricket Integrated Pest Management Guide, or contact the horticulture agent at your local county extension office to get a site-specific recommendation for management.

Ouch! What Bit Me?

Ouch! What Bit Me?

In the heat of the summer biting flies become very active during the day. Deer flies, horse flies, and especially yellow flies inflict a fierce bite on people and other animals. All three species are in the Tabanidae family, commonly referred to as tabanids. Like mosquitoes, female flies of these species require mammalian blood in order to gain the enzymes necessary to lay eggs.

The tabanids lie in wait under bushes and in trees until a host is sensed. The keen eyes of the flies are able to see their prey’s movement, but mammals also create scents and carbon dioxide, making them very easy to locate. The attacks begin at sunrise, lasts about three hours, fades through the heat of the day, and peaks again about two hours before sunset, lasting until the sun goes down.

Tabanids use their mandibles to cut through the skin like scissors, causing blood to flow. Anticoagulants in the fly saliva are pumped into the wound to keep the fluid coming while the insect sponges it up with its labella.

While blood loss and disease transmission are concerns, for most, the disturbing part of the attack is the painful bite! Many people experience other adverse effects that extend the agony.

So, what can you do? The use of insecticides is generally considered ineffective and/or economically unfeasible. Habitat manipulation is an important component to reducing populations. Tabanid eggs are laid in layers on vertical surfaces, especially on aquatic vegetation. Secretions from the adult fly protect the eggs from water damage. When the maggots hatch in 5 to 7 days they must remain in moist areas to survive.

Over the next few months, larvae feed on organic matter, crustaceans, earthworm, and insect larvae (including their own species), steadily growing larger. Once fully grown, the larvae move close to the soil surface to pupate. Within 2 days the process is complete. They will remain in the pupal stage for 2 to 3 weeks before emerging as an adult fly.

So, reducing breeding habitat in areas where people and animals spend their time is a possible management technique.

For those times when you want to be at these sites, a trap may help. Research has shown that blue cylinders (open side toward the ground) coated with sticky material and attached to slow-moving objects are effective at reducing the abundance of these flies.

So, get out the Tanglefoot™, spread it on a blue plastic cup, and hang it from a branch that’s moving with the wind. How about attaching one to the boat, tractor, or lawn mower?

If your personal image is less important than the pain of the bites, you may even consider putting the cup on your hat.

Native Pollinators: Furrow Bees

Native Pollinators: Furrow Bees

When you hear the word “pollinator”, what is the first insect that comes to mind? If I had to guess, you would probably say honey bee. European honey bees play an important role in agriculture as pollinators and honey producers, but there are hundreds of native pollinators often overshadowed by the beloved honey bee you should know about, too!

One such group of pollinators native to Florida are sweat bees. Sweat bees get their unfortunate name from their nutritional requirements of salt that are sometimes sourced from sweaty humans. They rarely sting but are capable, and they can certainly be annoying to people when they lick salt off their skin. This behavior tends to get more attention than their important role as pollinators.

A subgroup of sweat bees are furrow bees. Furrow bees nest in the ground or rotting wood and may be solitary or eusocial. In-ground nests are composed of branching tunnels in sandy soil at a depth between 8 inches and 3 feet with a small entry roughly the size of a pencil. Within the tunnels, the mother creates individual cells stocked with nectar and pollen and lays an egg. The larva feeds on these provisions and pupates underground eventually emerging as an adult. The life cycle can vary from a few weeks to a year or more depending on species and environmental conditions.  

Furrow bees are generalist feeders which means they will visit many different flowers, so diverse landscapes are attractive to them. In my northwest Florida garden, I see them often on sunflowers, Black-eyed Susan, coneflower, cosmos, tithonia, zinnia, and tickseed.  

To learn more about this topic visit:

Sweat Bees, Halictid Bees, Halictidae
Attracting Native Bees to your Florida Landscape