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  Crane Fly Morphology


Crane Fly Morphology
Morphological terminology follows that of Alexander and Byers (1981)


Crane flies are characterized by their elongate bodies, a pair of narrow wings and long, slender legs.

Gnophomyia tristissma by Lew Scharpf Erioptera sp by Tom Murray Pilaria sp by Sasha Azevedo
Tipula furca by Tom Murray Epiphragma solatrix by Steve Scott
Neocladula delicatula by Stephen Cresswell Tipula sayi by Gary Kessler
Nephrotoma ferruginea by Philip Penketh

Crane flies can be distinguished from all other true flies by the V-shaped transverse suture on the dorsal part of the meso-thorax, and by the absence of ocelli.

Dolichopeza sp by Gaga Lin

The body length of crane flies from the front of the head to the tip of the abdomen varies depending upon species.  In North America the body sizes vary from 2 mm in Tasiocera ursina, to about 55 mm in Holorusia hespera and 60 mm in the female of Leptotarsus (Longurio) testaceus.

Tasiocera ursina male Holorusia hespera female Leptotarsus testaceus female


HEAD                [^Top]

The head of crane flies is composed of the large compound eyes, the long antennae, and the rostrum which bears the mouthparts.

Tipula hirsuta by Jay Cossey Pedicia albivitta by Jean-René Bibeau

The compound eyes are large, equal size in both sexes in most species, and usually occupy most of the surface of the head.  They are usually glabrous but with short erect hairs in the tribe Pediciini. 

The antennae are composed of a cylindrical scape, a subspherical pedicel and 3 (Chionea) to 37 (Gynoplistia) flagellum segments (flagellomeres), commonly 11 in Tipulinae and 12-14 in Limoniinae in the Nearctic Region.

Tipula oleracea Head by Frank Koehler  
Limonia annulata Head by Tom Murray
Tipula sp by Mark Plonsky Tipula sp by Gayle and Jeanell Strickland Chionea valga by Tom Murray Gonomyia sp by Ling-Chu Lin

The antennae are generally short to moderate in length, but are often extremely long in male of certain species of Megistocera, Polymera, and Hexatoma. 

Megistocera fuscana male Hexatoma cinerea male Polymera sp male

The flagellomeres are usually simple and unmodified but are branched in species of Ctenophora, Limonia (Idioglochina), and Limonia (Rhipidia).

Ctenophora sp by Ling-Chu Lin Limonia (Idioglochina) sp by Gaga Lin Limonia (Rhipidia) sp by Gaga Lin

The rostrum is conspicuous and often extended into a small projection called nasus in flies of the subfamily Tipulinae.  The rostrum is small and inconspicuous in Limoniinae, but greatly elongated in species of Limonia (Geranomyia), Elephantomyia, and Taxorhina.  Mouthparts have a pair of four-segmented maxillary palpus.  The palpi are short in Limoniinae and longer in Tipulinae.

Nephrotoma alterna by Gayle and Jeanell Strickland Dicranoptycha elsa by Gayle and Jeanell Strickland
Elephantomyia westwoodi by Tom Murray Limonia (Geranomyia) sp by Lew Scharpf Toxorhina magna by Brian Womble


THORAX       [^Top]

The thorax is dominated by the sclerites of the mesothorax in both dorsal and lateral aspects, with well-developed V-shaped transverse suture on the mesodorsum.  Two spiracles are situated in membranous areas on the pleural region.  Halter long to very long in the Nearctic species.
Tipula dorsimaculata by Mark Plonsky


ant: antenna
lbl: labella
ped: pedicel
plp: maxillary         palp
rst: rostrum
scp: scape

a bas: nterior                     basalare
anepm: anepimeron
anepst: anepisternum
a spr: anterior spiracle
cerv scl: cervical sclerite
cx: coxa
fem: femur
hlt: halter
kepm: katepimeron
kepst: katepisternum
mtn: metanotum


mesonotum: (including prescutum, scutum, scutellum)
p bas: posterior basalare
presct: prescutum
prn: pronotum
p spr: posterior spiracle
sct: scutum
sctl: scutellum
tib: tibia
tro: trochanter
trn sut: transverse V suture

Wings are normally present, but reduced or lost in a few group, either in both sexes (Chionea) or only in females.  Wing venation greatly variable within family and are important in taxonomy.

Tipula sp. by Gayle and Jeanell Strickland

Dicranoptycha sp. by Gayle and Jeanell Strickland

Pilaria sp. by Gayle and Jeanell Strickland

A1, A2: branches of anal veins
C: costa
CuA: anterior branch of cubitus
CuA1, CuA2: branches of cubitus
d: discal cell (1st m2 cell)
M: media
m-cu: medial-cubital crossvein
m-m: medial crossvein
m1, m2, m3: medial cells
M1, M2, M3: branches of media
R: radius
R1+2, R3, R4+5: branches of radius
r-m: radial-medial crossvein
Rs: radial sector
Sc: subcosta
Sc2: branch of subcosta

Each leg consists of coxa (plural: coxae), trochanter, femur (pl. femora), tibia (pl. tibiae), and tarsus (pl. tarsi).  Tibiae has zero to two terminal spurs.  All crane flies have five tarsal segments (tarsomeres), and tarsal claws either simple or variously toothed.
Chionea sp by John Haarstad


ABDOMEN       [^Top]

Abdomen is long and slender and with nine evident segments.  The apex of abdomen in male enlarged into a club-shaped hypopygium, in female extended into elongate, acutely pointed ovipositor.  They can be sexed visually in the field by these two characters.

Nephrotoma alterna male by Gayle and Jeanell Strickland Nephrotoma alterna female by Gayle and Jeanell Strickland
Dicranoptycha elsa female by Gayle and Jeanell Strickland Dicranoptycha elsa male by Gayle and Jeanell strickland

The genitalia of crane flies as a group are diverse greatly.  Various authors have attempted to study these characters and proposed independently for the terminology of the reproductive apparatus.  The terminology used here for the male and female genitalia, and for the identification keys follow that of Alexander and Byers (1981).     

Tipula disjuncta male by Gayle and Jeanell Strickland
Tipula sp female by Gayle and Jeanell Strickland


















  Last Updated: 08/20/2008
  Page ©2005 James W. Fetzner Jr.
  Photos by Chen Young, unless otherwise stated.
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