Long Legs Equal Full Stomachs

This has been a bumper September for our flapping, floppy friend the crane fly.

Clouds of them have been taking to the air as I walk the dogs across dewy grass in the park, like squadrons of poorly navigated, ramshackle old helicopters.

They turn up in the house, flailing into lampshades and getting caught in the cobwebs I hadn’t previously noticed, and when I try to capture them humanely and dump them outside the back door, they leave a leg or two in the palm of my hand as payment.

What is the point of them?

Why are they are invisible for eleven-twelfths of the year, only to clatter into our lives as the weather turns a bit autumnal?

Crane flies only exist in flying format for a couple of weeks or so.

They will have hatched from a tiny egg laid in grass roots the previous autumn, becoming the fat, grey grubs gardeners know as leatherjackets. They exist in that form for most of their lifecycle, chomping through roots and growing steadily plumper… and frankly less attractive.

As autumn draws on again and the nights grow cooler, the adult crane fly emerges from the grub, leaving behind its leather jacket in exchange for a pair of wings, and a terrible sense of direction.

Their sole purpose at this stage is to mate, so the cycle can begin again.

But in these two weeks or thereabouts of crane fly action, they are a fabulously high-protein food source for all our garden birds who need to fatten up for the coming winter, as well as summer visiting birds like house martins who are still around, building up strength for the long, southbound migration to Africa.

This year, a lack of rain in September has meant that crane flies have been able to take to the wing in greater numbers (rain is a problem when you have a large surface area and floppy wings), which may be vaguely annoying for us, but great news for hungry birds… and hungry spiders, and hungry mice, voles, hedgehogs…

So try and put it outside if one flaps noisily across your path indoors. They don’t want to be inside, honestly. They just don’t steer very well. They need to be outside doing what a crane fly has to do… or being eaten in the attempt.

~ Ros Patching ~