How to get rid of crane fly larvae on lawn.

How to Get Rid of Crane Fly Larvae in Your Lawn

So, you need to get rid of crane fly larvae before they hatch in your lawn. And destroy your grass.

In this article, we’ll talk about these topics:

  • Why you have crane flies
  • Why there are so many out of seemingly nowhere
  • Ways to naturally get rid of the larvae and adults
  • What to spray to kill the larvae
  • When to hire a professional exterminator
  • How to keep them out of your home
  • And more

By the end of this article, you should have a solid understanding of these pests and know your plan to get rid of them.

Use the table of contents to quickly find the info you need.

If you have any questions, leave a comment.

Sound good? Let’s eradicate the crane flies from your grass turf.

What’s a crane fly?

A crane fly looks like a giant mosquito, and that’s what most people call them.

They’re actually quite the opposite.

Fully matured crane flies (the ones with extended legs) actually don’t bite humans and are harmless. But their larvae (which look like small worms or grubs), do pose a threat to lawns.

Their size often makes them scary to people, but because they’re huge, it keeps them from getting through your HVAC or window screens.

You’ll find them flying around your home during the warmer months. These flying buggers are found all over the planet and tend to populate in tropical or temperate areas.

Over 14,000 species exist today, and they’re usually found near streams, ponds, and grassy areas (like your lawn). Compost and plenty of dense leaf litter are primary attractants of crane flies.

Adult crane flies are rarely a problem because they just wander around all day.

The larvae will eat up your lawn until it leaves behind bare patches of soil. And that’s how you get rid of them- by focusing on the larvae first.

What do crane flies look like?

Crane fly adult.
Crane flies are scary because of their large size, but they’re harmless.

Crane flies come in two forms- adult and larvae. Here are descriptions of both parts of their life cycle so you can identify the pest.

Adults

These look like giant mosquitoes.

They have long legs that extend out from the abdomen on both sides.

And they often stick to the walls of your home and other structures. They don’t really do anything except look for a mate to breed.

The faults hardly even have a working mouth to eat anything, which is why they don’t bite or sting humans and pets.

The adults look alarming, but they don’t bite.

These can be controlled and eradicated to prevent the deposition of eggs, which will lead to a new generation of crane fly larvae.

Larvae (grubs or worms)

These look like worms, grubs, or are even described as caterpillars.

They’re about 1” in length and dark silver or brown in color depending on the species and environment.

They eat plant matter, which are usually your grass roots. This leads to your lawn turning brown or patchy over time. They can be found in huge amounts, as many as 80 per sq. foot of grass on average.

The larvae are deposited by the adult females and hatch around late summer to early fall. This is what you need to focus on to get rid of crane flies in your lawn.

The adults are slightly larger than your palm.

The wings and long skinny abdomen can fit in your palm with the legs slightly extending outside of your pinky and your index finger. They look like spiders with wings.

Mosquito vs crane fly

Crane fly vs. mosquito.
Mosquitoes are smaller and actually do bite versus crane flies that don’t and are larger.

Crane flies and mosquitoes are confused because of their similar appearance and nature.

Many people think they’re dealing with crane flies when they actually have mosquitoes or think they have a mosquito problem but in reality, they have crane flies.

This should be no surprise as the two species almost look alike and it can take a few steps to identify the differences between them.

It’s important to distinguish exactly what pest you’re dealing with because the process to get rid of crane flies and mosquitoes are different.

Don’t waste your time and energy by trying to eradicate the wrong pest!

Crane flies have these characteristics that make them different from mosquitoes.

Crane flies are a lot larger than mosquitoes, especially their legs. Mosquitoes are small compared to crane flies, even though they both have the “spider-like” legs that extend outward from their body.

Crane flies are huge and have extended legs, while mosquitoes don’t. Mosquitoes grow to be only about 0.25” while crane flies can range up to 2.5”. That’s a huge difference.

This is why they’re often labeled as “giant mosquitoes” when in reality they’re not. It’s just a crane fly.

Mosquitoes also have darker and thicker bodies.

Their legs are shorter and more compact with a noticeable bend. Mosquito wings are also smaller and positioned above their abdomen.

They’re more like mini crane flies. They can also range in color from dark brown to silver-gray, depending on their last meal.

Mosquitoes have no mouthpieces and use a proboscis that works similarly to a tiny syringe to feed on your precious blood and extract it.

Crane flies are the complete opposite. They have long skinny arms with wings that extend outward many times longer than their counterparts.

They have a sharp, pointed body part on their abdomen, but it’s not a proboscis, like mosquitos.

Crane flies are harmless towards humans and don’t sting or bite.

They actually don’t even eat when they’re adults- only the larvae eat.

This is why they have an empty space between their front two limbs, whereas a mosquito has the infamous piercing needle.

Crane flies are the “good” pest, while mosquitoes are the “bad” pest.

Other names

Crane flies are known by a variety of aliases.

Some of the most common names are:

  • Mosquito flies
  • Giant mosquitoes
  • Mosquito hawks
  • Daddy long legs (different from the spider)
  • Phantom crane flies
  • Red mosquito hawk
  • Spider fly leather jackets
  • European crane flies
  • Common crane flies

You should distinguish that you actually have crane flies and not a mosquito species.

Where do they come from?

Crane fly adult.
When you have a ton of larvae, you’ll see patchy grass on your turf.

Crane flies are found all over the coastal regions of the US.

There are European crane flies that focus on pastures, lawns, and farms. These are the ones that most people deal with.

European crane flies are very destructive and will eat up your lawn. The United Kingdom, the United States, and other temperate regions often have these pests on their lawn.

Some states like Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Ohio, Massachusetts, Indiana, Iowa, Colorado, Michigan, Utah, and California all have them. Areas that are hot and humid like San Diego or Las Vegas are swarming with them.

There are two main types of crane flies:

  • Common crane fly
  • European crane fly

The common species are exactly as they sound. They’re common and emerge around March when the temperatures pick up.

The European ones have been around for decades and come out during September. You can easily tell which type of pest you’re dealing with by the emergence period when their eggs hatch.

Note that you may not always know when the larvae hatch. Usually, homeowners don’t even notice until the turf is damaged from huge numbers of them.

And most lawns can actually tolerate about 50 crane fly larvae per square foot without showing any damage. So it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly when the larvae started feeding.

The European crane flies are the ones that cause damage. The common crane fly rarely poses a threat to even the smallest lawns.

The larvae of the European flies are also commonly referred to as leather jackets. They eat the grass roots and kill off sections of your turf.

Life cycle

Crane flies have a simple life cycle. They’re considered a true fly. Adult crane flies emerge from pupae during the summer when the ambient temperatures pick up.

This can also happen in the early fall. The eggs are deposited by females and hatch into grubs like pests called leatherjackets. They eat the roots of your grass and other plants, which is where the damage from crane flies stems.

They feed through the fall and spring and rarely emerge above the soil surface. The larvae also overwinter during the cold seasons but don’t feed until the temperatures pick up.

Pupation occurs during mid to late spring and adults will come out once again.

Any suitable lawn or turf easily allows pests to populate, and these are no exception. Crane flies are persistent and appear in large numbers- as dozens appear at the same time in a sq. foot of lawn space.

Why do I have a lot of crane flies?

Who knows? Probably because they sought out your lawn as a perfect place to deposit some eggs a few months ago.

And now that it’s summer and the temperatures are picking up, they’re all hatching at the same time.

So you may see a sudden jump in the number of crane flies you see out of nowhere. If you’re located somewhere that’s forested, near a stream or river, or you have grassy lawns with tall weeds, these can all bring more of them to your property.

Or if your yard is dirty and untidy, this will also be a perfect place for crane flies (and other pests that seek out overgrown, poorly maintained yards).

Are crane flies attracted to light?

Crane flies like light.
Crane flies are attracted to light, among other things.

Crane flies are attracted to light, as with many other flying pests. This is especially true at night when you have your patio lights on. Or even the lights you have indoors.

Both of these will draw these bugs towards your property. You can try using blinds or turning off lights you don’t need at night.

Or if you must have your indoor lights on, make sure you shut your doors and windows, or use window screening if you need to keep them open. Turn off any outdoor exterior lighting and you’ll make your property less attractive to them.

Are crane flies bad?

The adults aren’t “bad” to have.

They’re just annoying big bugs that’ll scare you once in a while. The larvae, however, will mess up your lawn if you ignore them. So the answer is both yes and no.

Crane flies will deposit eggs in your lawn, which leads to larvae being born. That’ll lead to your lawn getting eaten up and patchy grass.

So to kill the crane flies, you need to either get rid of the adults or larvae. Either one will disrupt them from breeding and thus get rid of them.

Crane fly bites

Crane flies don’t bite.

Although they’re large and scary, they don’t bite or sting humans or pets. They don’t even have working mouthpieces that can pierce the skin. Only the larvae are harmful to your lawn.

But to stop the larvae from destroying your grass, you need to stop the adults from breeding.

If you’ve been bitten by a flying pest with long legs, it’s probably a mosquito. Not a crane fly.

What’s the purpose of crane flies?

Since crane flies don’t bite or sting humans (and don’t even have working mouthparts), what exactly do they do?

These gentle giants don’t feed on other bugs, don’t eat plants, and don’t have any real purpose to exist. It’s only their larvae that are destructive to lawns, plants, and other foliage.

The adult crane flies really just do nothing. They fly around, scaring people, and bumping into trees, windows, doors, and your house.

They frolic in your lawn, play in your plants, and probably stick to your walls. The purpose of the adult crane fly is nothing more than to reproduce and deposit more eggs to continue the life cycle.

They’re often called big flying bugs that look like mosquitoes, but they’re harmless.

At least the adults aren’t. But the European larvae? Quite the opposite.

One benefit of crane flies is that they naturally dethatch your grass. The chewing behavior stemming from the larvae will prevent your turf from becoming hard and thatched over time.

The problem is when you suddenly have a lot of them and they start to kill off your turf. Most infestations don’t kill the entire lawn but rather leave behind bare patches here and there that are unsightly.

Crane fly larvae

Crane fly leatherjackets have one job: eat grass roots. (By Katja Schulz from Washington, D. C., USA – Crane Fly Larva, CC BY 2.0)

The larvae are the main culprit you should be worrying about.

These will eat and consume foliage and can harm or destroy weak plants. If you’ve been doing a lot of gardening, you may be disappointed to find out that crane fly larvae are eating up your lawn and plants.

The larvae are what you want to target when you do your elimination outdoors. They’re known to eat all types of lawns. If you don’t do anything, your lawn will suffer.

Each grub is about 1” in length and looks gray to brown. They’re usually hatched simultaneously and will group in large numbers in a small area. The average is about 80 larvae per square foot of lawn space.

To check for larvae, use a small digger and dig about 2-3” on your soil. Check during the fall and spring for peak results.

Dig in areas where your lawn is patchy or spotty. The grass here likely was eaten by crane fly larvae and thus grew poorly.

New grass is a prime target for these pests. They can also live on just plain organic matter, like decaying leaf litter.

What causes a crane fly infestation?

Crane flies have no specific reason other than finding a suitable lawn to infest. They’re native to all over the world, but especially in temperate or tropical climates.

Depending on your local environment, these pests seek out suitable areas for breeding and feeding.

Thus, if you have a property with an enticing lawn, water fountain, or dense foliage, these are all attractants that will cause crane flies to appear.

What are they attracted to? 

Crane flies prefer tropical temperatures with a source of water, such as a pond, lake, or stream. They also like dense foliage from grassy areas like weeds, lawns, and turf.

Bird feeders, water fountains, and birdbaths all may contribute to them coming to your lawn. They’re also attracted to unkempt lawns, leaf litter, and compost.

What do crane flies hate?

Crane flies don’t really hate anything, other than the larvae eating your grass.

The adults will fly around and just bump into things all day, but they’re not destructive and don’t bite. The larvae will eat up your turf, roots, and may even damage nearby plants by extracting nutrients from their root system.

This is the major complaint about crane flies. Otherwise, they’re considered to be beneficial bugs because they’re a necessary part of the ecosystem as they provide a source of food for skunks, birds, and rodents. 

How long are crane flies around for?

Crane flies only live for about 14 days on average. The larvae will stay in your lawn until summer to emerge. They do live through the winter by hiding in the soil and continue eating your roots.

How do you get rid of crane fly larvae naturally?

Crane fly inside house.
These pests come out of nowhere, but there are some things you can do to get rid of them.

Here are some methods you can do at home to eradicate the larvae on your lawn.

These DIY remedies may be helpful to reduce or eradicate crane fly larvae. And they may help you keep and repel the adults out of your property.

Keep in mind that if you’re not finding success with home remedies you should consult a licensed exterminator or use store-bought pesticides as directed.

Use nematodes

You can purchase nematodes bottled into containers.

These are applied to your lawn and they’ll naturally eat away the crane fly larvae. Nematodes are natural predators of larvae and grubs.

You can find nematode solutions in both sprays, mixes, and ready to use (RTU) units. Use as directed. Look for beneficial nematodes like S. feltiae.

Keep your lawn healthy

Your lawn can handle small amounts of leather jacket damage.

When the population density is less than 50 larvae per sq. foot, a healthy lawn will only show slight signs of damage from them.

Keep it in shape by having a scheduled watering session, feeding a good fertilizer, and overseeding. This will keep your turf up and running even with larvae munch at the roots of your grass.

Keep doors and windows shut

As obvious as it sounds, you need to keep your entry points sealed.

And if this isn’t an option, then use window or door screening. Or fix any damaged, torn, or ripped ones.

Since crane flies are so large, they are easy to filter out from your home. Sometimes they may wander into your house by a breeze or mistakenly come in.

But by doing basic upkeep around the home, you can minimize the amount of them, especially during peak season.

Clean up your garden

Clean yard to eradicate crane flies.
A clean yard proves to be less attractive to pests.

Unkempt lawns and gardens are the worst.

Things like overgrown plants that contribute to plant foliage being littered all over your grass turf attract crane flies and a whole host of other lawn pests, like garden sawflies and grasshoppers.

You should do basic care of your yard at all times to reduce the number of pests altogether.

Here are some handy tips:

  • Prune all your trees and shrubs
  • Keep flowers in check
  • Add mulch to your soil
  • Never overwater
  • Don’t over-fertilize
  • Remove any leaf litter
  • Add natural bug repellents like plants and essential oils
  • Make a barrier of diatomaceous earth around your plants
  • Remove any clutter like patio furnishings, bricks, storage bins, etc.
  • Keep water features maintenance
  • Drain or remove stagnant puddles of water
  • Harvest all fruits and veggies on time
  • Keep trash bins clear
  • Keep compost clear
  • Secure any loose firelogs

Keep your home maintained

Just like your yard, keeping your house in tip-top shape will reduce the number of pests you have to deal with.

Not only will this keep crane flies out, it’ll also help bring down other bugs that often get into homes through foundation cracks, crawl spaces, or other structural damage.

Here are some additional tips to keep bugs out your home:

  • Get an annual home inspection
  • Fix damaged screens on your windows and doors
  • Seal up any door gaps
  • Use caulk around crevices and entry points
  • Fix damaged weatherstripping around your windows and doors
  • Block or add bug repellents to crawl spaces
  • Check your home for any leaks

Your home is your most expensive investment, so take care of it!

Use bug zappers

As cliche as it sounds, these electronic bug killers are nice because they’re completely automatic and work alone.

Any crane flies, common houseflies, vinegar flies, moths, sawflies, or other flying bugs attracted to lights will fly into the zapper and get electrocuted.

Crane flies are no exception. You can add them strategically around the home if you have lots of crane flies. Consider installing units around doors, windows, or other high traffic places that go to your home.

There are many zappers on the market so do your research. Read some reviews. See if they offer bulk discounts.

Mow your lawn

Keeping your lawn mowed and trimming down tall grass and weeds will do wonders.

Although the crane fly nymphs live under the soil, your overgrown lawn will still be an attractant to adults looking for a place to deposit eggs. Why make it more obvious to them? Keep your lawn mowed on a regular schedule.

Remove tall grass and pull weeds out. This will help make your lawn less attractive to crane fly females and stop bugs that live in tall grasses.

Apply garlic

Garlic for pest control crane fly larvae.
Garlic gets rid of pests due to the pungent odor.

Garlic has been said to be a natural crane fly repellent.

You can mince your own garlic and either combine it with water and make a spray, or you can leave the garlic bits around the lawn.

Using a spray bottle isn’t practical, so consider getting one of those hose sprayer attachments.

Use the garlic water solution and join it to a hose attachment. Then water your lawn like usual. You’ll be disturbing garlic water at the same time.

Dish soap

You can also consider using dish soap and water through a hose attachment. This will add a layer of soap to your grass, which is speculated to repel crane flies. Test this in a nonobvious area first to make sure it doesn’t kill or harm your grass.

Attract birds

Birds naturally eat larvae and grubs. You can attract more birds to your yard using bird feeders, birdbaths, nectar, flowering plants, and just generally make your yard more appealing to them.

Having a ton of birds around will help reduce the crane fly population in your lawn significantly. Switching the type of seed you use to feed will change the species attracted to your lawn.

For example, sunflower seeds will attract finches, sparrows, and jays. You can also add bird feeders, bird boxes, and other nesting areas so more birds will stay.

Depending on the native bird species in your area, you’ll have to do some research to see what you can bring to your yard.

Attract other predators

There are a few other natural predators that eat crane flies. Some of these are frogs, skunks, beetles, and parasites that live under your lawn.

Other than the birds, you can look to attract some of these other predators. For example, you can set up some skunk bait to get more of them to your lawn.

You can set up rocks or make your soil moist to attract beetles. You can provide suitable environments for noninvasive mice to eat up any larvae they come across.

There are many different approaches you can take. If you live in an area that already has free-roaming animals, you can use them to your benefit. The larvae are defenseless against predators, so they’re an easy meal.

Citronella

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Citronella can also be used to keep crane flies out.

You can get the essence through a citronella candle or oil. It’s a natural substance from the citronella plant. Use it around your property in key areas that are common entry points for the crane flies (doors, windows, and crawl spaces).

You can also use the citronella scented candles to keep them away from parties, picnics, or other outdoor activities.

How to get rid of crane flies with essential oils

You can use essential oils to repel the adults from entering your lawn and laying eggs.

There are dozens of essential oils to choose from on the market, but you should opt for the proven effective ones like peppermint or lavender oil.

You can also try basil, onion, garlic, and lemongrass oil. Add a few drops of your chosen oil to a cup of water in a spray bottle and use it around the home to keep them out.

You can spray around your doors and windows. Though crane flies rarely enter homes, this can be effective to keep them out.

As for the lawn, you can use a spray diffuser- those things that attach to hoses and diffuse the oils with water.

Or you can mix a large bucket with water and a few drops of oil to concentrate it.

Use that liquid and get a hose to pump it on your lawn. Make sure the distribution is even.

Spray it on your lawn in light amounts and your entire lawn will be soaked with essential oils. This will make it smell very strong and keep crane flies away.

Though, you should always make sure that the oil you’re using doesn’t harm grass. Some oils are harmful to humans and pets, so do your research first.

Crane fly management

Crane flies can be hard to handle.

The adults just show up in swarms and appear to be nonstop bothersome. The larvae are hiding under your turf and will wreak havoc on your grass.

To eradicate, control, manage, and repel these pests, you need to disrupt their lifecycle. This either means getting rid of the flying adults or killing the larvae (AKA leatherjackets).

If you take a trip to your local hardware store, you’ll see that most pesticides are aimed at killing the larvae. This is because they’re much easier to manage than adults.

Crane fly adults will buzz around and can be very difficult to catch and kill, whereas the larvae are in a specific environment (your lawn) and can be much easier to manage.

Thus, it makes sense to start with the larvae and get rid of them.

You can use a variety of methods to do this- most of which are listed in the following section. Keep in mind that if nothing works out, leather jackets can be hard to eradicate.

You may need to consult the work of a professionally licensed pest control expert.

When should I treat my lawn for crane flies?

Crane fly on wall.
Wondering what to spray on your lawn to kill the larvae?

You should treat your lawn between August and September, as this is the crucial period to disrupt their lifecycle.

Crane fly eggs will hatch around the late summer and when you spray the poisons during this period, you’ll kill the most larvae as soon as they hatch.

You can apply the solution again after temperatures pick up again in the spring. Crane flies will hatch when temperatures pick up, similar to most other pests.

What pesticides should I use?

If you must resort to using commercial pest killers, search for something that contains pyrethrins or imidacloprid.

Both of these are effective against crane flies and a bunch of other lawn pests. The poisons work by paralysis, so it’s not instant kill upon contact. Use as directed by the product label.

These are commonly used to spray for crane flies on the lawn.

Sevin

Sevin makes a granule that’s advertised to kill crane fly leather jackets under the soil.

You can check out this product and see if it’s applicable to your lawn. Always use natural or organic management methods for crane flies when possible.

But if you’ve done everything you can and still can’t kill all the larvae, then you can consider store-bought brands. Use as directed.

How do you keep crane flies out of your house?

Crane fly larvae killer.
Crane flies may fly right through your doors and windows without you knowing.

Mosquito hawks are pretty darn big and will give you a good scare when it gets inside your home.

To keep them out, practice good housekeeping and keep your house maintained.

You should do basic things like replacing damaged window screening, adding a screen door if you need to keep your door open, sealing crevices and cracks, blocking off crawl spaces, replacing air vents, and fixing any worn weatherstripping.

This will help prevent any adults from buzzing into your house. Since crane flies are large pests, they’re easy to filter out from other, smaller counterparts.

Read the section above for more tips on keeping them out of your property. Use the table of contents section to quickly scroll to find what you’re looking for.

Crane flies in your room

If you have crane flies coming into your room, that’s pretty scary.

After all, it’s their large size and mistaken reputation that gives them a bad rap. Mosquitos have a pretty scary connotation.

And the crane fly is just like a huge mosquito. If you have crane flies in the room all of a sudden, chances are that it’s becoming summer or fall and temperatures have picked up and spiked.

After breeding and depositing her eggs, the adult females will just wander around and fly into things.

The same goes for male adults, but they don’t lay eggs.

So if you suddenly see a bunch of crane flies showing up, they probably just finished the mating season.

Or it could be that the adults are emerging from the larvae that have been in your lawn all season long.

Usually, you’ll see a spike of crane flies during the summertime. You can stop them from coming into your room, take the same measure as you would to prevent crane flies in your house.

Further reading

Here are some references you may find helpful:

Did you get rid of the crane flies?

Crane fly outdoors on the lawn.
Crane flies are hard to control, so be patient, plan the move, and move the plan.

By now, you should have a solid understanding of this “scary” pest and know how to deal with them.

The best approach is to use a natural way to get rid of them, then try using a lawn pesticide if you can’t get anything to succeed.

After that, consult a professional if you’re still not seeing the crane flies disappear.

Questions? Drop a comment and let me know.

And if you found this guide to be useful, please let me know also =]. Please tell a neighbor or friend who may get some use out of it.

Thanks for reading.

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