Skeeter Eaters (Mosquito Eaters)
One of my favorite myths involves an insect most people call, the Skeeter Eater, an insect many know as Mosquito Hawks. This is the myth that I and most of the people around me knew this insect as. In the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland they may also be referred to as daddy long legs, although in fact they are not even close cousins to the spiders accurately called daddy long legs. They belong to the insect family Tipulidae are commonly known as crane flies. Adults are very slender, long-legged flies that may vary in length from 2–60 mm (tropical species may exceed 100 mm).
Skeeter Eaters are commonly referred to as daddy long-legs, but this name can also refer to two unrelated arthropods: members of the arachnid order Opiliones (especially in the United States and Canada) and the cellar spider Pholcidae (especially in Australia). Numerous other common names have been applied to the crane fly, many of them more or less regional, including mosquito hawk, mosquito eater (or skeeter eater), gallinipper, gollywhopper, and jimmy spinner.
There are many myths and legends about insects that are so widely accepted as the truth. Even professional pest control operators believe many of these myths and until they are educated to the facts they will also spread the myths and when a Pro tells these tales they are more believable. This is why the pros need to get their continuing education and ask many questions. Many years ago when my daughter was in the 3rd grade she came home telling me that the granddaddy long legs was the most poisonous spider in the world and she knew that because the bug man that came to show and tell said so.
Because of the confusion between these insects and the actual daddy long legs spiders, some people also believe that Skeeter Eaters are very poisonous, but this is completely false. In fact, another widespread myth is that the Daddy Long Legs spider has the most potent venom of any spider in the world, again totally untrue but very often repeated. The true Daddy Long Legs is not even a true spider, but instead is an Arachnid called a Harvestman, and it does not have any venom whatsoever. Some people also think Skeeter Eaters are the largest species of mosquitoes, when in fact these insects are simply Crane Flies, in the fly family Tipulidae, and they are totally harmless to people and pets.
In appearance crane flies seem long and gangly, with very long legs, and a long slender abdomen. The wings are often held out when at rest, making the large body easily visible. Unlike most flies, crane flies are weak and poor fliers with a tendency to "wobble" in unpredictable patterns during flight, and they can be caught without much effort. Also, it is very easy to accidentally break off their delicate legs when catching them, even without direct contact.
Can we call the crane fly a pest? Maybe, and we say maybe because some species have larvae that feed on the roots and foliage of grasses, and may be considered a turf pest. These larvae are fairly large worm-looking grubs that are called Leatherbacks or Leatherjackets, and may be found if you turn back the soil in areas of your lawn where damage is occurring. The major culprit here is a species called the European Crane Fly, Tipula paludosa, and as its common name suggests it is not a native insect in North America. However, as so many exotic insect pests have done and will continue to do, it has managed to find its way to the United States, and was discovered along the east coast in 1952. In only 12 years it was being found as a pest along the west coast as well. How it crossed the continent so fast is anyone’s guess.
But, the adult crane fly is not considered a problem at all, and in fact in some of the largest species of crane flies may not even feed as an adult fly. Because, the only feeding this insect does, was done in the larvae stage. The mouthparts of some adult crane flies may be non-functioning, so they cannot feed. The crane flies that do feed as adult flies feed on nectar and some will have a long proboscis that is used as a straw to suck up the liquid materials.
One of the more popular myths is that they eat mosquitoes. When I tell people this they tend not to believe me, even some of the pros. With kids some of them will tell me my dad said so, this to me is the hardest part to overcome and sometimes I really don’t know what to say to the kids. Can you tell the 7 year old that his dad or grandfather really doesn’t know what they are talking about, I have to take each and everyone on a individual basis. When talking to a class of students I will get a lot of weird looks when I talk about Skeeter Eaters, even a few teachers will looke at me in disbelief. But I believe getting the truth out to everyone, when it comes to insects. The truth is better than the myth. Many other animals, including some insects, will readily feed on mosquitoes, but Skeeter Eaters are not one of them.