Gallynapper

If a crane fly was really a mosquito, it would be a monster bloodsucker — but it’s not.

Sightings of what appear to be the world’s largest mosquitoes can unnecessarily strike fear of excessive blood loss in beholders.

That apprehension usually is a temporary thing, a reaction for people seeing their first crane flies. After you’ve been around them repeatedly, you begin to notice that this insect with the mosquito-like build but relative giant wingspan and leg length shows no interest in landing on you, much less biting and sucking out your bodily fluids.

Many of us that differentiate them from mosquitoes were unaware that they are crane flies. The original common wisdom identified them as gallynappers. That still has a better ring to it than crane flies.

Historically retracing the label gallynapper, one finds that it was a name that really was attributed to larger mosquitoes, bigger biting bugs, or maybe even just big bugs, period. It was just a casual name, and everybody can have their own interpretation of that to which it applies.

Looking more closely at the crane fly, it becomes clear soon enough that this insect is not one to be feared. It is harmless, not even rating pester bug status unless someone is just drastically disturbed by the possible proximity of these wispy creatures. If one accidentally contacts you in flight, the worst that can happen is the slightest of angel wing tickles as it rebounds and flees.

This adult insect can be up to about 3 inches long, which might be terrifying if you glimpse it as a mosquito. It has ridiculously long legs and a slim, elongated abdomen. It is topped with a pair of translucent wings, all those parts going together to give it that caricature look of a huge mosquito.

The crane fly is mostly black with shades of brown and gray, colors befitting a “skeeter” impression, but that’s as close as it gets. Its behavior shows it to be an entirely different animal.

Importantly, the gallynapper does not have the piercing mouthparts to puncture skin and through which to sip out your blood. What minimal mouthparts that are found on the crane fly are designed for something else. The insect doesn’t eat much, only alive as a flying adult as a matter of a few days, and when it does eat, it partakes only of plant nectar.

One of the other false impressions of the gallynapper is that it is a predator on other insects, chiefly much smaller mosquitoes. Some people have gotten on board with that urban/rural legend and come to identify the crane fly as a mosquito hawk. I believe that’s wishful thinking. It’s like: “Oh, no, don’t swat that big thing; it will kill those mosquitoes that have been biting us.”

Alas, no. The crane fly will neither bite mosquitoes nor us.

Some people have looked closely and seen what looks like a stinger on the tip of the gallynapper’s long abdomen, its butt end. No again. That pointy thing is an ovipositor on the caboose of a female crane fly. It has to do with reproduction and egg laying. This is not a stinging insect, either.

Fearful folks tend to suspect venom everywhere, it seems. One of those wild tales that are repeated enough to become legend is that the crane fly somehow packs a potent poison, but we are lucky in that it lacks the hardware to inject us.

I wonder why nature would equip an insect with venom that it couldn’t use? I am guessing that people who came up with this story did not ponder that much. While it is true that the gallynapper lacks the stinger or any means to bite and inject, it likewise is true that it bears no venom of any kind.

There is a crossover story that seems to fit with another insect. The harvestman, a pedestrian arachnid kin to spiders that is often called daddy longlegs, is also the object of that tale. Some claim that daddy longlegs wields a potent venom that it cannot inflict on people — another phony-baloney urban legend.

A striking similarity here is that the harvestman and the flying gallynapper both have those silly, incredibly long, thread-like legs. And if you scratch deeply enough, you will find references to the crane fly as daddy longlegs, although the flying insect and the arachnid that most people recognize as daddy longlegs are completely different creatures aside from those lengthy limbs.

It just goes to show, as it has time after time, that people always have talked and speculated at length about creatures tiny to tremendous without really knowing much about which they were talking.

Entomologists, the bug authorities, do say that the larvae of crane fly feed on plant roots and can cause some problems for people in this fashion before the youngsters metamorphosize into flying insects.

I can’t say that I have ever met a juvenile gallynapper, one of the wiggly worm forms of the oversized flying mosquito lookalikes. I wouldn’t recognize it if I had. I have met plenty of adult crane flies, and we get on just fine. Gallynappers are totally harmless. Once you recognize they are not mosquitoes, they lack any powers of intimidation, much less a way to hurt you.

In terms of being a simple nuisance, people that are concerned about getting rid of them are probably more annoying than the gallynappers themselves.

Steve Vantreese, a freelance outdoors writer, can be contacted at outdoors@paducahsun.com.

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