If you’ve noticed a swarm of daddy long legs around your house in recent weeks, you’re not alone.
Famous for crashing clumsily into our walls and ceilings, this strange winged creature is found in abundance this time of year.
This is because the loving insect, described as a “sex machine” by one expert, is in a frantic search for a mate before it dies.
However, scientists emphasize that the daddy longlegs are harmless and do not bite, and say that the claim that it has powerful venom is just a myth.
Dad’s long legs are often confused with the spider of the same name, which will bounce and vibrate rapidly on its web to try to ward off threats.
Dad longlegs have only a few days to reproduce before they die, and they accidentally enter our homes this time of year during mate search.
Daddy Long Legs (Crane Flies): Quick Facts
Common UK species: Tipula paludosa
Appearance: Large, grayish brown and has a dark brown front wing edge.
Size: About 1 inch (2.5 cm)
Life expectancy: Two weeks
Natural habitats: Hedges, laws, forests, roadsides.
Eating habits: The larvae live in the soil and eat roots, but the adults rarely feed.
According to Professor Jim Hardie of the Royal Entomological Society, there are 327 species of longlegs (also known as crane flies) in the UK.
But the most common, and the one that we probably all find crashing into the walls of our houses, is called Tipula paludosa.
“Adults emerge from the pupae in late summer, August, September and October, and can do so in large numbers,” Professor Hardie told MailOnline.
“That’s why they enter homes at this time of year, but it’s accidental: their main concern is looking for a partner.”
Adults only have about two weeks or less to live, during which time they have only one purpose.
Paul Hetherington, an expert at nature conservation charity BugLife, called the species a “sex machine” because the function of the adult is “purely to mate, lay eggs and so reproduce.”
“This short lifespan means that the vast majority of crane flies emerge at around the same time, making it easier to find a mate,” he told MailOnline.
The most common species of crane fly in the UK, and the one we probably all find crashing into the walls of our homes, is called Tipula paludosa (pictured).
Who is the dad? There are three types of daddy long legs.
The term “daddy longlegs” can actually refer to three different types of creepy crawlies, depending on where in the world you are:
– The daddy longlegs that most of us in the UK know are actually crane flies, a species of winged insects that belong to the family Tipulidae.
– Another type of creature popularly known as daddy long legs, especially in Australia, are the Pholcidae, a family of spiders also commonly known as cellar spiders.
– The third type of daddy longlegs, of which Dr. Jäger’s Laotian specimen is an example, are the Opiliones, an order of arachnids also commonly known as foragers.
After mating, females lay up to 300 eggs in moist soil near the plants, which hatch about two weeks later and become larvae, called “leatherjackets.”
The larva feeds for the rest of the fall, hibernates in winter, feeds again in spring and summer, and then becomes an adult in fall, and the life cycle repeats.
Adults rarely feed on anything because their goal is to concentrate on mating and, in the case of females, laying their eggs in the grass.
Although the inset’s dangling legs look strange, they add stability during flight, confuse predators, and act as “whiskers” to detect danger.
Closing doors and windows is the best advice for keeping daddy long legs out of the houses, but if they get in, it’s not a big deal.
Dr. Duncan Sivell, a fly expert and curator at the National History Museum in London, said the long legs are “completely harmless.”
“I understand that people may not like such a large insect flying around their house, but there is nothing to worry about,” he told MailOnline.
‘If you want to get rid of one quickly, you can try a jam jar and a piece of card and drop them outside.
‘You can take a more direct approach and pick them up by one wing and carry them outside.
Closeup of a female crane fly (Tipula paludosa) on a common stinkhorn mushroom among the grass
The larva, known as the “leatherjacket,” is a grayish larva that lives underground and feeds on the stems and roots of plants. Adults rarely feed.
‘Don’t try to catch them by the legs as they are designed to fall off and the crane fly will escape.
“If you want to get rid of them but are not in a hurry, you can leave the windows open and turn off the lights, and in the morning the light from outside should attract the crane flies again.”
Daddy long legs will be the most worrying for proud gardeners because the larvae feed on roots in the soil, including grass roots, damaging the lawn.
According to the Royal Horticultural Society, a popular method of killing larvae is to use nematodes, small round worms that can be sprayed on the soil.
However, Natalie Bungay, an expert at the British Pest Management Association, said: “During their larval stage, crane flies are important for recycling and decomposition.
Daddy long legs (crane flies) are harmless and even viewed fondly by the public.
“They eat leaves, plants and small pieces of organic material from the soil or bodies of water where they live, so leave them alone if you can.”
According to Dr. Sivell of the National History Museum, Tracking the abundance of crane flies in Britain has been difficult, so there is not much data on whether populations are increasing or decreasing from year to year.
“Recording systems are run by volunteers and most of the data we have on British insects has been collected voluntarily,” he said.
“People who study these flies will say anecdotally that there has been an overall decline over the years.
“Concrete data is harder to come by, but with the general trend for insects being downward in Britain, there is no reason not to believe the experts when they say there are fewer crane flies than before.”
Harvester, crane fly, basement spider – why are they all called dads?
The origin of the name ‘Daddy Long-Legs’ is unknown, but some maintain that it may be related to a novel, Daddy Long-Legs, written by Jean Webster in 1912.
The book is about a young orphan girl who has an anonymous benefactor whom she calls Daddy Long Legs because of his height.
But that explanation is contradicted by the Random House Dictionary, which places the origin of the name between 1805 and 1815.
To add to the confusion, the name is applied to three different creatures: foragers, cellar spiders, and crane flies.
Depending on where you are in the English-speaking world, a harvester may or may not be known as daddy long legs.
Many people consider basement spiders, also arachnids, to be among the most venomous spiders in the world, but they cannot harm humans because their fangs are too weak.
However, this is considered an urban legend based on their predation on much more lethal spiders.
Crane flies are not spiders at all, and yet they are still known as daddy long legs.
In certain parts of the US, they are known as ‘mosquito hawks’.