It all started with this:
A leatherjacket. Or in the common tongue, a crane fly larva. In this case some unidentified flavor of Tipula.
This rather large and delightfully vulgar looking critter made its way onto the patio and found itself being blown around by gusty winds. It didn’t help that the patio floor slopes in that area. With no legs, a cylindrical shape and only an ability to inch along on its belly, the poor kid rolled all over the place.
Which of course meant I crawled along on all fours trying to keep up with it so I could take a photo or two. What a scene that must have made, especially given what the leatherjacket appears to be from even a small distance.
“Is that man chasing bird poop? With a camera!?” The imagery banged around inside my head.
After watching the little giant roll beneath the fence where it probably had a better go at maneuvering, I began my quest to answer that age-old question: Mommy, where do leatherjackets come from?
The journey would take me to the far reaches of the world. Or at least to the riparian woods around Dixon Branch right here at White Rock Lake. The lush drip line teems with crane flies this time of year. I just knew one or two of them would be willing to satiate my jones for knowledge.
But the first pair seemed too busy for me.
Tipula tricolor. Good, I was in the right ballpark. Well, in the right genus anyway.
I couldn’t understand why they perched in a buttocks-to-buttocks position, though I did understand they ignored my queries as if they couldn’t hear me. How rude!
It’s not like I was asking for the meaning of the universe or the formula for cold fusion. Heck, I wasn’t even asking where babies come from. I just wanted to know where leatherjackets come from. How difficult can it be?
After several minutes of no response, I moved on. I felt confident I could locate friendlier crane flies who would be willing to help me.
Nestled against a tree I found this dandelion with two crane flies practicing their trapeze act. Strange that their performance felt so still and uneventful. But who am I to judge what entertains these insects? For all I know this represents breathtaking excitement.
A quick glance at wing venation and pattern told me their ID: Tipula colei. Again good for me on finding the right kind of folk with whom I might converse.
Yet like the first pair, I couldn’t even get these two to look at me, let alone talk to me about leatherjackets. Golly gee, you’d think I hadn’t taken a shower or was carrying a gun. But all I had was a camera, and I had in fact taken a shower thank you very much.
Perhaps the Tipula clan consisted of nothing but impertinence and impudence. I was beginning to think as much.
OK. Same species, so I held little hope of a different response.
And what precisely did they think they were doing? A conga line in slow motion?
But wait a minute! What’s going on down here…
Three abdomens. Again with the buttocks-to-buttocks position and the third hanging out behind a wing in the corner of the frame. Maybe a wider view would be beneficial.
Crikey! More trapeze acts, only this one adds the ooh-and-aah excitement of a third wheel. Yawn… If just hanging there is some sort of fun, I don’t get it.
I did ask this trio about leatherjackets. They never flinched. I politely pointed out that my interest stemmed from a pure naturalist’s heart and had nothing to do with invading their privacy.
After two hours of one-sided conversations with crane flies, I walked away from the experience none the wiser on the origin of leatherjackets.
So I was left to my own devices. Logical deduction would have to guide me.
If leatherjackets look like bird poop, then obviously they come from birds. If they show up in spring, they must come from migrating birds who only pass through at that time. Now what species might be the source…
Storks! That’s it. I finally had my answer. Baby crane flies come from storks who fly overhead and drop these cute little bundles to the ground where they wriggle and writhe until blossoming into adult crane flies.
Darn I’m smart.