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I've seen these insects before (here in Cambridge, UK) and thought that they were probably mosquitoes, but they don't make the annoying noise that mosquitoes do (they fly similarly, but silently):
I also noticed that they are perhaps slightly larger than mosquitoes (maybe 12mm long) and don't have the long mouth which mosquitoes use to sting you.
Sorry for the poor photos, I don't have a camera with a macro lens anymore, and it's night-time. It's casting a strong shadow as you can see in the second photo.
It is most certainly a fly from Chironomidae, which belongs to the same suborder (Nematocera) as Mosquitoes (Culicidae). They have an overall resemblance to mosquitoes, but lack the large sucking mouthparts, and often have the large feathery antenna that are seen in your pictures. Some species are found in large swarms in early spring (but also later in the summer). Larvae can be found in most freshwater, and are called bloodworms due to red colour (high in hemoglobin, adapted to live in oxygen-poor sediment environments)
I doubt that the exact species can be determined from these pictures though.
Insects Commonly Mistaken for Mosquitoes
Most people don't like mosquitoes, given their painful bites that turn into itchy, red welts. Mosquitoes also transmit serious and sometimes deadly diseases, including malaria, yellow fever, dengue, and West Nile virus. Pets, too, are at risk of mosquito-borne diseases, like heartworm.
And yet, despite the fact that nearly every person on the planet has personal experience with mosquitoes, many people can't tell the difference between mosquitoes and their harmless cousins. Just because it looks like a mosquito doesn't mean it is.
Let's take a look at the differences between mosquitoes and two insects commonly mistaken for mosquitoes—midges and crane flies. All three of these insects belong to the same insect order, Diptera, also known as the true flies.
Novel study identifies an area of the mosquito brain that mixes taste and smell
A female Anopheles gambiae mosquito with olfactory neurons on the antennae, maxillary palp and labella labeled in green. Credit: Olena Riabinina and Courtney Akitake, Johns Hopkins Medicine
A new study by Johns Hopkins researchers suggests that a specialized area of the mosquito brain mixes tastes with smells to create unique and preferred flavors. The findings advance the possibility, they say, of identifying a substance that makes "human flavor" repulsive to the malaria-bearing species of the mosquitoes, so instead of feasting on us, they keep the disease to themselves, potentially saving an estimated 450,000 lives a year worldwide.
A report on the research appeared online on Oct. 3 in the journal Nature Communications. Malaria is an infectious parasite disease of humans and animals transmitted by the bite of the female Anopheles gambiae mosquito. In 2015, experts estimate it affected 214 million people, mostly in Africa, despite decades of mosquito eradication and control efforts. There is no malaria vaccine, and although the disease is curable in early stages, treatment is costly and difficult to deliver in places where it is endemic.
"All mosquitoes, including the one that transmits malaria, use their sense of smell to find a host for a blood meal. Our goal is to let the mosquitoes tell us what smells they find repulsive and use those to keep them from biting us," says Christopher Potter, Ph.D., assistant professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Because smell is essential to mosquito survival, each mosquito has three pairs of "noses" for sensing odors: two antennae, two maxillary palps and two labella. The maxillary palps are thick, fuzzy appendages that protrude from the lower region of the mosquito's head, more or less parallel to its proboscis, the long, flexible sheath that keeps its "feeding needle" under wraps until needed. At the very tip of the proboscis are the labella, two small regions that contain both "gustatory" neurons that pick up tastes and olfactory neurons for recognizing odorants.
To better understand how An. gambiae mosquitoes that cause malaria receive and process olfactory information from so many sensory regions, Potter's team wanted to see where olfactory neurons from those regions go to in the brain.
They used a powerful genetic technique—never before accomplished in mosquitoes, according to Potter—to make certain neurons "glow" green. The green glowing label was designed to appear specifically in neurons that receive complex odors through proteins called odorant receptors (ORs), since OR neurons are known to help distinguish humans from other warm-blooded animals in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry the Zika virus.
"This is the first time researchers managed to specifically target sensory neurons in mosquitoes. Previously, we had to use flies as a proxy for all insects, but now we can directly study the sense of smell in the insects that spread malaria," says Olena Riabinina, Ph.D., the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow now at the Imperial College London. "We were pleasantly surprised by how well our genetic technique worked and how easy it is now to see the smell-detecting neurons. The ease of identification will definitely simplify our task of studying these neurons in the future."
As expected, Potter says, the OR neurons from the antennae and maxillary palps went to symmetrical areas of the brain called antennal lobes, just as they do in flies. But Potter was quite surprised when he saw that the OR neurons from the labella went to the so-called subesophageal zone, which, he says, had never before been associated with the sense of smell in any fly or insect it had only been associated with the sense of taste.
"That finding suggests that perhaps mosquitoes don't just like our smell, but also our flavor," says Potter. "It's likely that the odorants coming off our skin are picked up by the labella and influence the preferred taste of our skin, especially when the mosquito is looking for a place to bite."
Potter says the finding potentially offers researchers one more way to repel mosquitoes. The antennae and maxillary palps are more specialized for picking up long-range signals, while the labella come into direct contact with our skin. In fact, Potter says, before injecting their needlelike proboscis, mosquitoes use the labella to probe about on a victim's skin. "We don't really know why they do that, but we suspect that they're looking for sensory cues that hint at easy access to a blood vessel," he says. "This suggests that a combination of repellants could keep mosquitoes from biting us in two ways. One could target the antennal neurons and reduce the likelihood that they come too close, while another could target the labellar neurons and make the mosquitoes turn away in disgust—before sucking our blood—if they got close enough to land on us."
The two-part genetic system Potter devised to generate the glowing neurons will make it much easier for his and other laboratories to mix and match genetically altered mosquitoes to generate new traits, he says. His group has already created a strain of An. gambiae mosquitoes whose OR neurons glow green upon activation. Scientists can thus see which neurons light up in response to a specific smell.
"Using this method, we hope to find an odorant that is safe and pleasant-smelling for us but strongly repellant to mosquitoes at very low concentrations," says Potter.
His group was also able to compare the brains of male and female mosquitoes. Since only females use their sense of smell to find humans and males feed only on nectar, it was previously thought that males had just a rudimentary sense of smell. The Potter group found instead that males have the same level of complexity in their brains to detect odors as females but have fewer olfactory neurons. "It appears that males might just have a scaled-down version of a female's sense of smell. So they can still smell everything a female smells, just not as well," Potter says.
His group plans to study other types of neurons to better understand how signals from the mosquitoes' three types of olfactory receptors interact to influence their behavior. For example, why is lactic acid not attractive on its own but highly attractive when mixed with carbon dioxide?
"We'd like to figure out what regions and neurons in the brain lead to this combined effect," says Potter. "If we can identify them, perhaps we could also stop them from working."
MYSTERY BITES: Insect and Non-Insect Causes
Nearly everyone experiences what seem like bug bites from time to time. The irritation might be accompanied by welts, rash, itching, or perhaps the feeling that something is crawling over the skin. Even when no bugs are apparent, the annoyance can be enough to trigger a call to an exterminator. Unfortunately, pesticides might not be the answer. Unless the underlying cause is discovered, the discomfort will likely continue.
It is important to realize that there are many causes of bite-like reactions — some of which are related to pests, and others that are not. Pest management professionals can usually provide relief if insects or mites are the culprit. If no pests are found, the customer may need to see a dermatologist or other allied professional. The following information is intended to help those who believe they have a biting pest problem where the source of irritation has not been identified.
STARTING THE INVESTIGATION
The cause of perceived ‘bug-bites’ is often far from obvious. Investigations should be thoughtful and systematic, ruling out likely possibilities through the process of elimination. A good rule of thumb in such cases is that no pesticide should be applied unless biting pests or clear evidence of them are discovered or strongly suspected. A thorough investigation is more likely to yield a solution.
Treating without a known target pest can mislead the client into thinking that spraying will fix the problem, which it seldom does. Additional (unnecessary) treatments may be requested thereafter whenever someone complains of an itch.
To conduct a careful investigation, it is useful to interview the client before inspecting the premises. In commercial settings such as an office building, this may involve talking with management as well as affected employees. A questionnaire (see the bottom of this page for the questionnaire, or view this downloadable PDF version) can be helpful for gathering facts that may solve the mystery. One of the most important questions to ask is if anyone has actually seen or captured any bugs as the irritation is occurring. With a few notable exceptions (e.g., bed bugs, certain types of mites), most pests that bite humans are likely to be seen as the irritation is felt. It’s also important to consider the pattern of bites within the building – e.g. are several people affected or just a few? Where are incidents being reported? Is there an association between the onset of symptoms and certain maintenance activities, such as the installation of new carpet, or work on the heating and cooling system? Have there been birds, bats, rodents, or other animals that could possibly be harboring parasites? Such questions can yield important clues worthy of further investigation.
Mystery bite investigations differ from most other pest inspections because the ‘culprit’ is unknown. The list of potential irritants is long and many fall outside the realm of pest control. Inspections should initially seek to determine if biting pests are involved. If they are not, customers may still want to know about other factors that may be causing the discomfort.
During the investigation, various specimens could require identification. Those that are small will require magnification to see clearly. Ideally, specimens should be placed in non-crushable containers instead of in envelopes or under tape. Another method of capture is to install several glue traps at locations where bites have been reported. Although such traps are not always reliable, they are another potential tool that could help determine if biting pests are present.
Fig. 2: Glue traps can help to reveal pests capable of causing irritation.
Persons complaining of invisible mites or insects crawling over their skin are sometimes advised to place strips of clear cellophane tape over the affected area while the sensations are occurring. Unfortunately, this seldom reveals the cause of a mystery bite problem. Neither does collecting samples from carpet and floors with a vacuum. Industrial hygienists may use suction devices for collecting fibers and air-borne contaminants, but vacuuming by householders seldom reveals biting pests and samples are tedious to sort through and process. The appearance of bites or welts on the body can also provide clues, although ‘bug bites’ are difficult to diagnose, even by physicians.
Fig. 3: ‘Bug bites’ are difficult to diagnose, even by physicians.
The most useful tactic for these cases is knowing where and what to look for. With mystery bites, the list of potential irritants is extensive.
SOURCES OF IRRITATION
Irritations of unknown origin may be from arthropods (insects or mites) or a multitude of other factors which have nothing to do with pests. Below are the more common sources worthy of consideration.
Obscure Biting Pests
In some mystery bite cases, insects or mites truly are the culprit. These are some that should be foremost in the minds of inspectors.
Bed bugs have become increasingly common and should always be considered a possibility in mystery bite investigations. People are usually bitten at night while they are sleeping. Initially the bite is painless and victims seldom know they are being bitten. The typical reaction is itchy red welts on exposed skin appearing within a day or so of the incident – although there can be a delayed reaction over a matter of days in some cases. Others have little or no reaction to the bites. Since bed bugs also remain well-hidden, victims often are bitten repeatedly yet never see an insect. Confirmation requires finding the bugs, shed skins or dark fecal spots of digested blood, which can be difficult especially in the early stages of infestation.
Fig. 4: Bed bugs should always be considered a possibility in mystery bite investigations.
Because bed bugs are cryptic and nocturnal, visual inspection alone sometimes fails to reveal their presence. Various devices are available to help detect their presence. Among the most popular detection methods are small plastic dishes (e.g. ClimbUp®), that wandering bed bugs crawl or fall into but cannot escape due to the slippery inner surface. Typically, the devices are placed under the legs of beds and seating, or close by.
Fig. 5: Dish-shaped traps can be placed under beds and sofas to help monitor for bed bugs.
When bed bug-like insects are found, it is important to consider whether bats, birds or other wild hosts are involved. Although similar in appearance to the kind of bed bug that prefers humans, bat bugs and bird bugs require different management procedures.
Fleas are another common source of insect bites within homes. Fleas are fast moving and jump when disturbed. However, because they are brownish and about 1/8" long, they are usually noticed. Bites typically occur around the lower legs and ankles, producing a small, red, hardened, itchy welt. Fleas are most often associated with pets, although the presence of mice, rats, squirrels, skunks, possums or raccoons can also result in infestations. Animal hosts need to be present for extended periods for fleas to become established — a brief visit by a dog or cat, for example, is unlikely to cause problems. Infestations can be confirmed by examining pets, installing traps (e.g., myFleaTrap®), or walking the premises in white socks pulled high (which makes the presence of the pests more obvious).
Fig. 6: Fleas generally bite low on the leg, whereas bed bugs attack any exposed skin.
Liceare another possible source of itching and irritation. Infestations occur on the head and other hairy areas of the body. Lice are tiny, whitish-grey insects that are visible under close examination by the client or physician. Because they largely remain on the host, treatment of premises is not required nor is it recommended. The types of lice that bite humans are mainly acquired through close personal contact or sharing of hats or combs.
Fig. 7: Lice cause itching and irritation but are easy to diagnose.
Mites are tiny pests that occasionally bite and irritate people. Some feed on animals, others infest stored foods, and some dwell outdoors in vegetation. Contrary to popular belief, most mites that bite people in buildings are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. There also is no such thing as a ‘cable’, ‘computer’ or ‘paper’ mite — these terms are purely fictitious. Mite infestations in buildings can result from birds nesting in eaves, attics, etc., or from mice or rats. When a bird or rodent dies or leaves the nest, thousands of parasitic mites can migrate indoors and bite humans. Domestic fowl (chickens, parakeets, etc.), gerbils and hamsters also may harbor mites capable of biting people. Bird and rodent mites are tiny, but appear as dark slow-moving specks — they are about the size of a period. Mites cannot jump or fly.
Fig. 8: Mites infesting birds and other animals sometimes also bite people.
A few parasitic mites are too small to be seen with the naked eye. The human scabies mite burrows into the skin, causing intense itching accompanied by a rash. Skin between fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulder blades are areas most often affected. Transmission of scabies mites occurs only through close personal contact or sharing the same bed. Fortunately, scabies is a rather rare condition that is readily diagnosed by dermatologists and other competent physicians. No treatment of the premises is needed since these mites cannot survive off a human.
Various mites living indoors also infest stored food products such as grains, meats, cheese and dried fruit. Food and mold mites tend to infest items stored for long periods that have become moist or moldy. Tremendous numbers may develop in such places as pet food bags, non-refrigerated smoked meats, or caged animal litter. At times populations may disperse outward from breeding sites and annoy humans. Food and mold mites do not suck blood but can irritate the skin. They appear as tiny, pale-colored slow-moving specs on dark surfaces.
Fig. 9: Mites infesting a bag of pet food.
Other mites that can bite humans live outdoors in vegetation. Chiggers (the immature stage of the harvest mite) live in tall weeds and dense vegetation. They crawl onto people and often attach where clothing fits tightly, such as around ankles, waist or armpits. Chigger bites produce hard red welts that begin itching intensely within 24 hours. Consequently, people may not associate the irritation with being bitten outdoors the day before.
Fig. 10: Chigger bites produce hardened welts that itch intensely.
Another nearly microscopic biter, the straw itch mite, infests straw, grain or hay. Severe rash and itching results from handling infested materials in barns, stables, etc. Yet another type of itch mite inhabits the leaf galls of oak trees. In late summer or autumn, tremendous numbers of the mites can become airborne, landing on people. The bites are red, itchy, and painful, appearing on the face, neck, chest and arms. Fortunately, outbreaks of this mite are sporadic and have been reported mainly in the Midwest. Itch mites may be the culprit if the victim was outdoors near oak trees. Like chigger bites, the irritation may not be felt until the following day. Delayed reaction to bites is also common with ticks and mosquitoes, and from exposure to poison ivy/oak. Asking clients if they have spent time outdoors can help determine if such pests might be involved.
One additional mite worth mentioning is the house dust mite. Dust mites are common indoors where they feed on dander (bits of shed skin) from people and pets. Large numbers may persist in beds, couches and carpet, but are generally too small to be seen with the naked eye. People sometimes think dust mites are capable of causing itching and bite-like reactions but this is untrue. Their annoyance is limited to an ability to cause allergies, with symptoms such as stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, cough, watery eyes and asthma. Diagnostic kits for detecting house dust mites can be bought from pharmacies and allergy testing can be performed by a physician.
Thrips are tiny (1/16") straw-colored insects that feed on plants. They have piercing mouthparts for sucking plant juices but can also bite humans. The bite feels like a pinprick. In late summer, huge numbers of these insects may become airborne, landing on people’s clothing and skin. Some also may be transported on air currents into factories, warehouses, etc. Although houseplants are seldom the source for these or other biting pests, they are still worth checking during inspections.
Sand flies, also called biting gnats, punkies or no-see-ums, breed in swamps, marshes and other moist areas outdoors. They are vicious biters yet so small (1/32"- 1/8") that their presence often goes unnoticed. Fortunately, biting flies seldom breed indoors. Several other tiny flies which are harmless (e.g., fungus gnats) do occur indoors, however, and will need to be identified to alleviate client concerns.
Spiders are often thought to be responsible for bites of unknown origin. In truth, most spiders are harmless, timid creatures and bites are a rare event. When spider bites do occur, it usually is in response to being crushed or threatened they do not ‘pounce’ on a person as they would a fly. As with other potential biters, it is extremely difficult to diagnose a spider bite from the lesion alone. Lacking an actual spider doing the biting, such diagnoses even by physicians should be regarded as little more than a guess.
If the investigation reveals biting insects or mites, appropriate pest control measures can be taken. If no such pests are discovered, the person should be referred to a dermatologist, industrial hygienist, or other allied professional. Following are some of the more common (non-pest) irritants that these entities may consider.
Household Products. Everyday items found in homes and buildings can cause skin reactions similar to ‘bug’ bites’. Products most often implicated include soaps, detergents and cleansers, cosmetics, hair products, medications, paper/cardboard, printing inks (as from multiform carbonless paper), and certain types of clothing, especially those containing fire retardants. Sometimes the location of the rash or irritation suggests the cause. For instance, a rash on hands and arms of factory workers might be due to cleaning compounds or materials they are handling such as cardboard. If a connection can be made to one of these possible irritants, avoiding further exposure may solve the problem. A dermatologist can confirm that a particular product, rather than a pest, is responsible.
Environmental Factors. When multiple people experience itching and irritation in the absence of pests, the cause is often some irritant in the environment. Among the most common are tiny fragments of paper, fabric, or insulation. When these adhere to skin, they can produce symptoms ranging from a mild prickling or crawling sensation to intense itching accompanied by rash, welts or sores. If fibers or fragments are involved, the irritation usually occurs on exposed areas of the body — arms, legs, face, neck, etc. Such problems are rather common where large amounts of paper or cardboard are processed, like offices, filing rooms, and distribution centers. New or badly worn carpets, drapes, and upholstery also shed fibers that can irritate skin. Laundering clothes or blankets in a washer/dryer previously used to clean curtains can likewise cause irritation due to the shedding of fiberglass and other materials. Other possibilities include sound-deadening fibers from ceiling tiles, or insulation fibers emitted from heating and cooling systems. These are especially likely if there has been recent repair work on the ceiling or air-handling system.
Fig. 11: Cardboard, fabric and insulation fibers can cause irritation mistaken for insect bites.
Irritation can be worsened by static electricity, which increases the attraction of particulates to exposed skin. Low humidity, electronic equipment, and nylon in carpeting, upholstery, or women's stockings all increase levels of static electricity and the potential for particle-induced irritation. Static electricity also causes body hair to move, giving the impression something is crawling over the skin.
If fibers or fragments are suspected, floors, furniture and work surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned. In offices, static-reducing measures can be implemented, such as raising the humidity level of the air and installing static-resistant mats under chairs. Anti-static sprays can be used to treat seating areas. Dryness alone can also cause irritation, producing a condition known as ‘winter itch.’ As skin loses moisture, itching results — a particular problem during winter and in older people. Similar reactions may occur from changes in temperature that can make skin more sensitive. A skin moisturizer can be helpful in such situations, or consult with a dermatologist.
Volatile indoor pollutants can also cause irritation. Although such compounds most often cause headaches or eye, nose, and throat discomfort, some may cause welts and rashes. Materials most often implicated include ammonia-based cleansers, formaldehyde emitted from materials such as plywood, carpet, and cardboard, tobacco smoke, and solvents and resins in paints and adhesives. Reactions often occur in industrial settings or buildings receiving new paint, wall or floor coverings. If indoor air pollutants are suspected, the client may want to contact an industrial hygienist to monitor for allergy-producing contaminants. Companies specializing in environmental health monitoring have online listings in most cities.
Medical Conditions. Health-related conditions also may cause symptoms mistaken for bug bites. Itching and irritation are common during pregnancy, especially during the last trimester. Similar symptoms are associated with diabetes, liver, kidney, and thyroid disorders, and herpes zoster (shingles). Food allergies and prescription or recreational drugs are other common causes of such symptoms. One's overall emotional state, including stress at work or home, can also trigger skin irritation. Moreover, the response can be induced in other people simply by the ‘power of suggestion.’ When one person in a group experiences itching and irritation and talks about it, others often feel the urge to scratch as well.
Fig. 12: Methamphetamine and other psychostimulant drugs can cause symptoms that mimic insect bites.
Delusions of parasitosis is a more serious emotional disorder characterized by the conviction that living organisms are infesting one’s body. Delusory parasitosis patients have similar symptoms and patterns of behavior which tend to sound unusual. Patients typically report bugs or mites invading various areas of their body — often vanishing then reappearing, or perhaps changing colors while being observed. Specimens submitted for identification (often in great quantity) usually consist of bits of dead skin, hair, lint, and other debris. The individual’s skin may have become irritated from persistent scratching, bathing, and application of ointments and chemicals. Clothing and household items often are repeatedly washed or discarded. Sufferers commonly have visited one or more doctors with no definitive diagnosis or relief.
Fig. 13a: Delusions of parasitosis patients often submit numerous samples for identification.
Fig. 13b: Self-inflicted scratches and scarring may also be evident.
While these cases may seem bizarre, they are tragically real to the patient. Sufferers often are convinced that spraying insecticides will fix the problem — but treatment of the disorder lies outside the realm of pest control. Such cases should be referred to a dermatologist or mental health professional. Unfortunately, it may be difficult to convince affected individuals to seek professional help, except perhaps by involving another family member.
SUMMARY. There is no simple way to diagnose ‘mystery bite’ complaints. Oftentimes, the itching or irritation has nothing to do with insects or mites and cannot be solved by pest control. Approaching each case in a thoughtful, methodical manner will increase the chances of finding a solution. Such sensations are real to the client, and should be addressed with care and concern.
CAUTION: Some pesticides mentioned in this publication may not be legal in your area of the country. If in doubt, please consult your local cooperative extension service or regulatory agency. Furthermore, ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW LABEL DIRECTIONS FOR THE PRODUCT YOU ARE USING.
Please note that content and photos in this publication are copyrighted material and may not be copied or downloaded without permission of the Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky.
MYSTERY BITE QUESTIONNAIRE
- Area(s) within building where bites are occurring _______________________________
When did problem first occur? ______________ Frequency of occurrence ___________
Time of day ________________
Description of symptoms (welts, rash, itching, etc.) _____________________________
Area(s) of body affected ___________________________________
Has patient seen a doctor (e.g., dermatologist)? If so, what was the diagnosis?
Have insects or mites suspected of causing irritation been seen or captured? _______
If so, were they identified by an entomologist or other competent professional? ______
Has there been infestation of birds, bats, rodents, raccoons, squirrels, etc. within past
6 months? ________ If so, where in the building? ____________________________
By Leslie Mertz
That inch-long, gangly-legged insect that sneaks into your house and bounces around the walls and ceiling is a crane fly, and despite rumors to the contrary, it is neither a predator of mosquitoes nor a colossal mosquito. And it’s harmless.
Although the Internet abounds with reports of adult crane flies biting or stinging, they do neither.
“There has yet to be found a predatory adult crane fly,” said Matthew Bertone, PhD, a crane fly specialist and extension associate with the North Carolina State University Department of Entomology. “They just don’t have the mouthparts for it. So no, none are blood-feeding, and none of them attack people.”
In fact, many of the adult crane flies eat very little, if at all, according to Jon Gelhaus, PhD, a fellow crane fly specialist and curator in the Department of Entomology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.
“Some can sponge up liquids, such as dew and honey water, but we don’t see them do that much,” he said. “A number of them have independently evolved long mouthparts, and they’ll visit flowers to take up nectar.”
The slight diet is fine because adult crane flies typically live just a matter of days. Crane flies spend most of their time as larvae living underwater in streams, the edges of ponds, within wet logs, or in other damp places, and then they emerge as adults for a quick mating spree before dying.
The 15,000 or so known true crane flies in the family Tipulidae also share a somewhat similar appearance to mosquitoes. They have a narrow body with two long and slender wings, as well as six stilt-like legs that can be twice as long as the body. Crane flies are diverse in wing pattern, color, and size.
“The smallest crane fly in the world could probably stand on the head of the biggest crane fly in the world,” Bertone said. The tiniest ones have bodies that are mere millimeters in length, while the largest can be more than two inches long with leg spans topping 10 inches. The big differences between species, however, are found among the larvae.
“There are lots of crazy morphologies there,” said Bertone. “Some of them have inflatable rear ends that they use to move through soil more easily, some have fringed setae on the end to break the water tension, and some have these weird creeping structures, sort of like caterpillar prolegs with hooks on them, so it’s extremely variable. We don’t know much about the larvae. In fact, for many species, we have never seen the larvae.”
Although scientists have a greater understanding of adults — thanks in great part to the work of U.S. entomologist Charles Paul Alexander (1889- 1981), who described a whopping 11,000 crane fly species during his illustrious career — a multitude of questions remain. For example, according to Bertone, “Most of the crane flies have big eyes, but we don’t know how good their vision is and how much that’s used to sense where they’re going. The males in some of the groups have antennae with really elongate segments compared to females, but we don’t know what the purpose of that is.”
Scientists are also uncertain about courtship and communication. Some crane fly species engage in all-male swarms that apparently attract females, Gelhaus said. The males of other species will simply flit around their habitat with their forelegs outstretched, presumably using a contact pheromone to seek out females.
Other behaviors are also ripe for study. For instance, Gelhaus has seen both males and females of several tropical species aggregate together in dark areas.
“Whole groups of individuals will all be flying around together, sometimes bouncing at a constant level,” he said. “If you disturb them, they will fly away, but then in a little while they will re-aggregate back into those areas. We really don’t know what they’re doing in those situations.”
Gelhaus has also seen members of another tropical species in Peru that sandwich themselves between the surface of a stream and a suspended spider web.
“They seem to be hanging upside-down from the spider web, holding onto the threads of the web without being caught in it,” he said. “Behaviorally, I’d say crane flies aren’t super complex in comparison to even some other fly families, but there are a lot of these adaptations — including mimicry of ichneumonid wasps and other things — that really need study and will take somebody spending some time in the field and observing to figure out.”
Scientists are also still sorting out the evolutionary tree, particularly whether the large Tipulidae family should be split into several different families. Bertone was part of a research group that used morphology and genetics to try to sort it out. They concluded that the bulk of the species had more in common than not and should remain in the Tipulidae family, while just one smaller family of hairy-eyed crane flies (Pediciidae) should be separated out as a sister group.
Gelhaus appreciates their assiduous tone.
“Instead of splitting up Tipulidae all kinds of ways, which later evidence might not have supported, they said that the weight of the evidence conservatively supports two basic lineages, and I thought this was a pretty good way of approaching it,” he said. “I expect there’ll be some changes as we move along, and as more and more data is put to it, but that’s just part of the nature of classification and the taxonomy. It has to evolve along with our knowledge.”
There are other crane flies that fall outside the Tipulidae and Pediciidae families, but they are not as closely related. These include the phantom crane flies, winter crane flies, and primitive crane flies (Ptychopteridae, Trichoceridae, and Tanyderidae, respectively). The best known of these is the phantom crane fly Bittacomorpha clavipes, a large insect that flies with its inflated tarsi (“feet”) helping to float its long, black-and-white legs in the air.
“Phantom crane flies are one of my favorites,” Bertone said. “They’re really pretty and I just like the way they fly.”
Even the true crane flies alone, however, are deceptively diverse.
“They have weird behaviors and weird morphologies,” Bertone said. “I’m always seeing photos of new ones, and it just blows my mind how they look or how they have all these crazy modifications. There are strange, wingless, spider-like snow crane flies that are thought to live in animal burrows and crawl underneath the snow there are small, hairy ones there are larger ones there are lots of them that suck nectar — it’s a really diverse and pretty amazing group.”
Gelhaus agrees. He took a rather serendipitous path to his study of crane flies, with an internship at the California Academy of Sciences that just so happened to involve these insects, and he has enjoyed every minute.
“I’ve never regretted it,” he said. “It’s a very interesting group for me, and it’s taken me all over the world. Crane flies were definitely the right choice.”
Read more at:
“Phylogenetic synthesis of morphological and molecular data reveals new insights into the higher-level classification of Tipuloidea (Diptera)” by Matthew J. Petersen, Matthew A. Bertone, Brian M. Wiegmann, and Gregory W. Courtney in Systematic Entomology, Volume 35, Issue 3, pages 526–545, July 2010.
What Do They Look Like?
Carpet beetles measure just 1/16 to 1/8 inches long—about the size of a pinhead—and vary in color. Some are black, or dark enough to appear black when observed with the human eye. Others might be mottled, with spots of brown and black on a lighter background. Like many other beetles, they are round or oval and convex, like ladybugs. Carpet beetles are covered in tiny hairs, which are difficult to see unless you look at them under magnification.
Carpet beetle larvae are elongated and appear to be fuzzy or hairy. They leave their molted skins behind, so you might find small piles of fuzzy skins in infested pantries, closets, or drawers.
It's a good idea to identify insect pests correctly before you try to treat or control them. If you aren't sure if the tiny black bugs are carpet beetles, take a specimen to your local cooperative extension office for identification.
Who is this tan mosquito-like flying insect hanging on various tree leafs in zone 5 northeast USA?
I grow potted trees in zone 5 of northeastern USA and spend time watching the nature around them. I have been trying to learn more about the insects that frequent the plants, whether for good or bad.
In early summer I was regularly seeing the insect shown in photos below. I still see it sometimes, but not as frequently. I couldn't tell that it was hurting any leafs but it was putting its mouth to the leafs as if eating or sucking on something. Is it helping (protecting from other pests) or hurting (being a pest) the leafs? Its mouthparts and coloration are not like mosquitoes' but it otherwise its form is similar to one. It seemed to land on various leafs and trees in different areas of the garden but I noticed it most on hazelnuts (maybe just by chance).
A related question, maybe better a separate question, is how do you learn all the insects that frequent your plants? Are there good resources or methods to ID insects in a garden?
1 Answer 1
They are some kind midge flies (chironomids (Chironomidae)). obviously a biting kind of midge fly. A species specific identification would require a much better image, or preferably- a sample of the actual insects.
I see that you live in India. that makes identification more difficult because entomology is not a thoroughly studied science there.
Generally speaking, midge flies are controlled in the larval state (before they become adult flies). They are a lot like mosquitoes they lay eggs in stagnant water (sewage, ponds, and drains are common). The larvae are commonly called redworms.
Eliminating the (stagnant water) source of the midge flies would be the most effective control, of course. Otherwise, a natural control method (recommended) would be Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis which can be found in many box-stores. look for "mosquito dunks".
Bugs That Look Like Mosquitoes
Able to survive in a variety of climates, mosquitoes are a nuisance and more seriously, transmitters of diseases across the country. Still, these pests are not always the true cause of a pest infestation. Many people mistake bugs that look like mosquitoes for the pests themselves. Knowing the difference between common insects is important for effective control.
Indoor Bugs that Look Like Mosquitoes
Is it Mosquitoes or Fleas?
Both of these biting insects may get into homes. Mosquitoes tend to fly inside through open windows and doors, and fleas catch a ride on pets and clothing instead. After a close look at both pests, homeowners should be able to spot some key differences. These pests have wings, while fleas are wingless and have thin, flat bodies.
Mosquitoes vs. Crane Flies
Crane flies are commonly mistaken for bugs that look like mosquitoes. In discerning between mosquitoes vs. crane flies, the crucial factors are size and behavior. Crane flies can be more than double the size of these insects. In addition, females bite, but crane flies don’t.
Do I Have Mosquitoes or Gnats?
Common in homes, fungus gnats are another bug that looks somewhat like mosquitoes. The small, flying insects often come indoors looking for places to develop.
Comparing gnats and these insects visually can be tough because of their small size and similar body type. Location is a better tell. Homeowners typically spot fungus gnats swarming around house plants with little interest in moving anywhere else.
Outdoor Mosquito Look-Alikes
Is it a Midge or Mosquito?
Biting midges feed on the blood of humans and animals and like mosquitoes, the blood meal they consumed gives them a reddish color to their abdominal body segment. These insects also have specific wing patterns and other distinguishing characteristics that help with identification.
Mosquitoes and Chiggers
Both of these biting insects annoy homeowners in yards. Chiggers are extremely small when compared to mosquitoes and are unable to fly since they are wingless. Their bright red color also stands in sharp contrast to the dull, black hue of mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes vs. Tadpoles
Property owners may also discover mosquito larvae, commonly referred to as wigglers and tadpoles swimming in an outdoor water source. Tadpoles live in the same habits as mosquito larvae and compete with them for food. Tadpoles are much larger than mosquito larvae and of course will develop into adult frogs.
Reducing Mosquito Populations
Mosquito adult females transmit diseases such as West Nile virus through their bites, so identifying and treating an infestation is vital. Once homeowners determine they are not dealing with a mosquito look-alike, limiting the pests’ spread is the next step. Orkin specialists have the tools and training to deal with mosquitoes and similar-looking insects that might also become pest problems.
Crickets live all over Australia and you have probably heard them - but maybe not seen one. The most common is the Black Field Cricket. Only the male of this species 'chirp' by rubbing their wings together. They do it to attract females, to woo them, and to warn off other male competitors. Black Field Crickets are widespread in eastern and southern Australia. It's not hard to spot one jumping around as they grow to about 2.5 c&hellip
Daddy Long Legs Spiders
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