They creep slowly in the corners of our living room at this time of year, and are so anxious about the bathroom that we panic when we try to brush our teeth. But are we witnessing a record-breaking daddy long-leg blast this year, as some tabloids claim?
What are Dad’s Long Legs?
Usually this is the colloquial name given to the crane fly, a fly with a long body, much longer legs and bent knees. Their name reflects their affection for slender insects. In Irish they are known as pilib gheataire meaning skinny philips and in Scotland many call them Jenny long legs.
A news agency claims that it is facing a crane flies epidemic due to weather conditions this summer. It was then reported in many tabloid newspapers as selected as the plague of the Bible. The author asserts: The cool, humid summers created ideal breeding conditions, and as early fall approaches, they are soaring into the air in swarms from their burrows. Families with windows and doors open risk dads flying in and blowing up round lampshades and TV sets.
Is it true?
According to experts, this may not be the case. Matt Shardlow of the British insect charity Buglife explains that while crane flies numbers have not yet been sufficiently monitored, it is almost impossible to know because there have been no abnormal amounts of insects to date.
He said: As with most insect population stories, there is no national population monitoring for cranes, so it’s almost impossible to say for sure, and populations can be very uneven, so if you live next to a field where cranes thrive, you live tens of miles away. A person can see much less than usual due to local circumstances.
Overall, insect populations are declining, but the cranes seem to have had a decent year due to the mild, wet weather.
Shardlow says: All we can really say is that this isn’t a bad year for cranes. Some people see significant numbers of flies, but these large gang flies are completely harmless, so no one needs to worry. Most of the large cranes people see at this time are the common daddy long-legged (Tipula paludosa), but there are over 350 species in the UK.
Should we rejoice over them breeding?
Yes. Shardlow says: Crane flies are an important part of a healthy ecosystem. They are prey for birds, bats, hedgehogs and many other animals, and some crane flies are highly endangered and in their own right are a conservation priority. In particular, there are species associated with certain types of wood decay that are actually very rare, such as the Royal Splinter Crane Fly.
Is there a problem?
They may be in the future. As with all insects, there are fewer insects than they should be, and that means less food for the animals that eat them, including amphibians and birds. A lot of rain in the summer can be bad because the caterpillars die on the submerged ground. The lack of cranes is considered a factor in the starling decline, and the number of starlings breeding has declined by more than 50% over 25 years.
Are they dangerous?
A common playground analogy is that daddy’s long legs are extremely venomous. But this is false. They do not contain poison and do not bite anyway. Their fear of venom is thought to be the result of mixing with the venomous and sometimes called daddy long-legged American reclusive spider.
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