Crane Flies/Tipple Bugs: Beneficial or Pest?

tipple bug on plant

Crane flies, sometimes referred to as tipple bugs, are common in many places, so you've probably seen these long-legged creatures roaming around your home or garden. Maybe you've wondered, are crane flies dangerous? Are they good for your garden? Here's what to know about these innocent but intimidating insects.

What are Crane Flies?

Crane flies can be found under many other aliases: tipple bug being the most common. They're also often called ‘flying daddy long legs’ or ‘mosquito hawks.’

From a distance, crane flies can appear to be very large mosquitoes, which is where their bad reputation probably begins. These bugs are drawn to light, which means they're also drawn to the inside of your house.

We've seen more than a dozen of these around homes and in cabins in many different parts of the United States, and we’ll admit they're a little frightening if you don't know what they are. But luckily, these giant flying table of bugs are not part of the mosquito family—they're not going to bite you.

The crane fly life cycle primes these bugs to come out in late summer or early fall, but may still see a few before then. Late summer is crane fly mating season, which is when these tipple bugs are out in full force and in full size. You'll see the biggest crane flies near the end of the summer.

Crane flies have a very short life cycle and only live for a handful of days after depositing their eggs in the grass. If you have lots of crane flies around your home, know they won't be there for very long because they need to mate, lay their eggs, and then die.

Don't worry about these flying creatures leaving behind little friends inside—tipple bugs won't lay eggs in your home. They naturally seek out dirt and grass to lay their eggs so their larvae have food to eat when they hatch.

tipple bug on white background

Are Tipple Bugs Harmful?

No. Adult crane flies are not dangerous. Their larvae, though, can damage plants like grass.

Ironically, people are most worried about table bugs when they're big and flying around the yard or house. But if you've got a garden or lawn, it's the tipple bug larvae that can do damage. If brown and dead spots are appearing in your yard, there is a chance that a pest is responsible for the damage to your green lawn.

That being said, there are dozens of reasons why lawns end up with dead patches, So before you jump to conclusions, make sure that your won't lawn has been properly fertilized and irrigated, and that there's not another problem causing the dead patches.

It can be hard to take care of pests, on you and your lawn, so make sure your lawn really has a pest problem before you try and treat it.

How to Treat Crane Fly Larvae Spots?

Crane fly larvae are sometimes referred to as leatherjackets. These baby crane flies can do damage to your lawn or turf when you've got a lot of them. A few crane fly larvae won't do much damage, if any at all. The problem comes when you have a lawn full of leatherjackets that are happily munching away on your grass and turf.

One way to tell if your lawn is full of tipple bug larvae is to watch where the birds and animals are feeding in your yard. If birds are regularly swooping down to grab a tasty snack from a brown patch on your lawn, you may have a bug problem. And if you live in an area where tipple bugs are common, you may want to start examining your lawn for tipple bug larvae.

Once you’ve found two or three spots where the tipple bug larvae might be, it’s time to take a few samples of the dirt to look for the larvae.

You’re going to want to take a large sample of dirt and you’ll need to dig down at least three or four inches. Any less, and you may miss the culprits altogether. Examine both the dirt sample you’ve removed and the dirt underneath that sample.

Check close to the edge where the grass is still green. Using gloves, see if the roots of the grass show signs of being snacked on. If you find more than twenty-five larvae in a square foot radius, you’ve got a bug problem.

bug larvae

There are always going to be bugs in the dirt, so the trick is identifying the leatherjackets. One of the most distinct things about these bugs is that they have no legs as larvae, unlike many other dirt bugs and larvae.

If it turns out that you do, in fact, have a lawn full of hungry leatherjackets, you can begin treatment immediately.

If you use a pesticide geared toward larvae to help heal your lawn, follow the instructions closely. Failure to accurately apply it will leave you with a lawn still full of bugs. Always wear protective gear when working with chemicals that could be harmful to your eyes, skin, and lungs.

If you prefer a more natural remedy, there are a number of DIY lawn care pest control solutions you can try. But just because they may be chemical-free, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful with them. Even these DIY pest control lawn care solutions can be dangerous when inhaled or splashed on the skin.

Crane fly larvae are particularly drawn to moist areas. Areas where the soil is drier are safer from crane flies than areas with damp soil. If you find that your yard has crane flies, and you're not ready to jump to pesticides yet, try limiting the amount of moisture in your lawn.

It's also important that you make sure that your lawn is frequently mowed and that the grass stays about three inches tall. These tactics can be used as preventive measures, as well as a way to treat the crane fly larvae problem in your yard.

Aerating your lawn is also important. Aeration is a great tactic for lawn care, especially in areas where your ground contains lots of excess moisture. Because of the nice, inviting conditions that the damp dirt brings for bugs, you're more likely to have a tipple bug problem if you don't aerate your lawn.

You can aerate the grass yourself by renting an aeration machine or you can hire a company to aerate for you. We recommend that you aerate at least every two years, but more often if your specific area of the country needs more aeration than that.

Will Crane Files Eat Other Bugs?

As nice as it would be if these big bugs would eat some of the smaller bugs around your home and yard, that's not going to happen. Despite the nickname "mosquito hawks," adult crane flies don't eat mosquitoes.

In fact, they don't eat anything, because their life span is so short. Their main purpose is to lay eggs, so after they've sprouted from larva to full-blown tipple bug, they're not munching on anything, including the other bugs around your home and yard.

Keeping Tipple Bugs At Bay

bird eating bug

Natural Bug Eaters

There are a handful of ways to keep the tipple bugs in your yard at bay. One of the best things you can do is introduce natural bug predators to the surroundings. This keeps you from having to use chemicals and pesticides in your yard or carrying around a giant fly swatter to keep these giant bugs at bay.

Cats and birds are natural predators of tipple bugs, and sometimes even Yellow Jackets will eat adult tipple bugs and their larvae.

Birds are especially great at keeping bugs in general out of your yard, or at least controlling the bug population around your home. You can do things to entice birds to come into your yard like installing a birdhouse, putting bird feeders in your trees, or keeping birds’ predators out of your yard.

If you live in an area with lots of mosquitoes and tipple bugs, we have an unconventional solution for you. If you've got enough land, You can install a bat house at the edge of your yard. The bats will work to keep the bugs out of your yard in a big way.

Installing Bat Houses

We've got a bat house installed at our cabin, and it's the only cabin in the area that doesn't fall prey to swarms of mosquitoes and hordes of crane flies during the hot summer months. Though there are definitely still a few, the bats do a great job of keeping the bug population down.

The idea of adding bats to your property can feel a little scary—bats kind of have a bad reputation. Bat houses are more common than you think though, and contrary to popular belief, bats aren't the biggest carrier of rabies around. In fact, it's pretty rare that a bat will carry rabies.

There are some things to consider though before you install a bat house at your home. First, you want to make sure that your house is very secure so the bats don't find a way to nest in your home or attic.

It's also important that you place the bat house far from your home in an area that receives at least eight hours of direct sunlight every single day. This will create the optimum environment to keep bats happy and on your property.

You likely won't see the bats often, but you'll see the effects of the bats in your yard.

We know people who have placed bat houses in their yards all over the country, but it is important that you make sure that adding a bat house to your property is allowed, especially if you live in an area with an HOA. Checking your local laws is also a good idea.

If you're serious about adding a bat house to your property but you don't want to do it yourself, give a local exterminator a call. Often, exterminators will install bat houses for you and can give you good information about bats in your area.

Tipple Bugs Around the House

If you find a tipple bug flying around your home, remember they're not dangerous at all. If you can, gently shoo it outside through an open door or window. You can also use flypaper or other forms of traps around your home if you find an excessive amount of crane flies making their way inside.

Bug spray will kill a tipple bug if that's what you're going for, but these bugs are truly harmless, so you could pick them up and throw them outside just as easily—if you're feeling brave enough.

The best way to keep tipple bugs out of your home is to keep your doors and windows closed and your screens repaired.

And if crane flies aren’t your only pest problem this year, check out our coverage about other insects like June bugs, wasps, and silverfish.