Q&A With an Entomologist: Attack of the Mosquito Hawks!

Evil bug photo from Wikimedia Commons
Evil bug photo from Wikimedia Commons

They are everywhere in North Texas. Are they here to suck your blood? Do they mean us harm? What’s the deal with mosquito hawks? I called an entomologist to find out. Mike Merchant is a professor and extension urban entomologist with Texas A&M. He lives here. He knows a thing or two about bugs, and he runs a bug blog that you might enjoy. Here’s the deal:

Q: Am I using the right term, “mosquito hawk”?

A: That’s a common term. But entomologists would call them crane flies.

Q: I encountered one in my shower this morning. They are everywhere at my house. And it can’t be just my house. What the heck is going on?

A: This is something that happens every late winter or early spring. We will have several weeks of fairly high numbers of these long-legged flies flying around. To be honest, they are not well studied in this part of the country. There are a few that can be pests up in the Pacific Northwest. The ones down here are a soil-dwelling insect. They live in the ground as larvae, usually in wet soil. They may be feeding on microbes. They may be feeding on plant roots. They don’t seem to be a pest in Texas.

Q: Yeah, they don’t bite or anything. They don’t seem to have a purpose other than at night, when you’re going to bed, turning out the light, you can hear this big creature repeatedly bumping into your window.

A: If it makes people feel better, then can think of them as being food for birds.

Q: But they don’t have anything to do with mosquitoes? They don’t eat them or anything?

A: I think a lot of people think that they are predators of mosquitoes. Some people think they are big mosquitoes. But they actually have no mouth parts whatsoever as adults. The larvae do. But when they pupate and emerge in the spring, they fly around, and really the only thing they have time to do is mate and lay eggs back in the soil and die.

Q: How much longer can we expect to have these things around?

A: There are different species. It’s actually one of the most diverse fly families in the world. There are lots of different kinds. So there are different species emerging. I’d say usually we have about a month this time of year when they are pretty common. Then they just mostly go away.

Q: You, as an entomologist, when you find one of these crane flies in your house, do you squish or do you snatch it, open the door, and let it outside?

A: Even though my job is usually killing insects, I usually try to catch them alive in my hand and put them outside.