How to Get Rid of Crane Flies

closeup of two crane flies on leaves

Crane flies resemble a giant mosquito with legs like stilts. Crane flies won’t harm you, but you can get rid of these home invaders via natural and chemical methods.

Crane flies have many names. They’re often known as European crane flies, mosquito hawks, and leatherjackets, and crane flies are often confused with daddy longlegs and mistaken for a Texas-size mosquito. Whatever you call crane flies, a handful of these big pests won’t cause issues, but a heavy crane fly infestation needs to be remediated. 

Note that crane flies are a temporary problem while their biological clocks are ticking.

Neem Oil: An Organic Method to Drive Away Crane Flies

Neem oil is made from the seeds of the neem tree, something that drives off crane flies and other insects. Here’s what you need to know about using neem oil to get rid of crane flies and keep them away:

  • Green as it gets: Neem oil is one of the least toxic organic insecticides. It will not harm people, if used properly, the EPA finds. 
  • It is beneficial. Neem oil does little damage to the organisms deemed beneficial, such as bees, butterflies, and other pollinators; as well as birds, ladybugs, and the others that serve as predators of the bad pests. 
  • Read the label first. Too many people fail to do this. Do you really want to go to the expense and effort involved, but have it fail because you didn’t read the 1-2-3 on the label?
  • Spray it. You can buy neem oil spray ready to go, or you can mix two tablespoons of neem oil into a gallon of water to make your own (and save money).
  • Be careful. Send your kids and pets away, both when you spray neem oil and in the days right after. A rule of thumb: Wait for the ground to dry.
  • Be smart when applying neem oil. Don’t spray neem oil on a windy day. And here’s a tip: If it rains within a day of spraying, the rain will likely wash away whatever was sprayed.

Other Natural Methods to Get Rid of Crane Flies

Birds feed on crane flies. One of the simplest methods to get rid of crane flies is to encourage birds to hang around your yard. Robins and starlings are just a few of the birds that enjoy feasting on larval crane flies.

How to attract birds to your yard:

  • Hang bird feeders throughout your yard
  • Provide nesting sites, including houses
  • Install a bird bath, but change the water frequently to prevent mosquitoes

Another DIY method to get rid of crane flies is to introduce natural predators, such as nematodes. Sometimes referred to as roundworms, these natural predators love to feed on crane fly larvae and grubs.

How to introduce nematodes to your yard:

  • Choose a spray, mix, or ready-to-use nematodes from the home supply store
  • Read and follow directions
  • Consider beneficial nematodes such as S. feltiae, which will help support healthy a lawn

Chemical Methods to Get Rid of Crane Flies

Pesticides are usually a quick solution to your crane fly problem. Just apply pesticides in the late summer or early fall. Pesticides will target both the eggs as they hatch, and the adult crane flies.

How to apply a crane fly pesticide:

  • Look for a product containing pyrethroid or imidacloprid, and select a liquid or granular form that you feel most comfortable working with. 
  • Consider what kind of spreader you’ll need or use, and calculate the approximate square foot area of your yard. 
  • Read and follow the package directions carefully (as with any pesticide).

Other Ways to Get Rid of Crane Flies

For temporary relief, bug zappers, citronella, and traditional bug repellents are all effective on crane flies. Some sprays are organic and all-natural, making them a safe option for your yard.

Your first defense against a crane fly invasion is a good offense, and the best preventative method is to maintain a healthy lawn.

How to keep your lawn lush, green, and free of crane flies:

  • Mow grass to the proper height, usually between 3 and 4 inches
  • Water less frequently to deter larvae
  • Remove lawn thatch as needed
  • Aeration and proper drainage will prevent conditions for laying eggs

What to Know About the Crane Fly

closeup of a crane fly
Kylir Horton | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Crane flies vary in color from gray or brown to yellow, and their wings are either striped or marbled. Most remarkable, however, is the wingspan which often exceeds 2 inches. 

Adult crane flies emerge from pupae in late summer, and mate immediately, dying in about two weeks. Within one day of emergence, females lay eggs that hatch into larvae called leatherjackets. These worm-like creatures stay under the soil, feeding on roots, until they emerge as adults.

Crane flies live outdoors, with a preference for damp vegetation. Crane flies are usually found low to the ground feeding on grass roots and other organic matter. This feeding habit means that crane flies can become turfgrass pests as they feed during adulthood.

Prevalent in the Northwest and Northeast, crane flies feed on the roots of turfgrass. Feeding during the larval stage may worsen this issue. This can be especially damaging to new grasses, but we’ve already detailed the many options to get rid of crane flies.

Just a reminder: Crane flies are harmless. Their entire goal is simply to reproduce. Instead of swatting at these bugs, the next time one gets close, slow down and take a look. 

Note that while crane flies won’t bite you, they feed on the roots of turfgrass, slowly killing the visible plant and leading to brown patches. 

When to Call a Pest Control Pro

If you would rather prefer to have these pests gone fast, call a professional pest control company to get your crane fly problem under control.

Pest Gnome freelance writer Ted Rodgers contributed the information on neem oil as a crane fly deterrent.

Main Photo Credit: crabchick | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Allison Hoover

Alison Hoover is a Midwesterner through and through, and loves to spend her time baking and reading. Always at home in the dirt, as a kid, Alison raised a vegetable garden with her dad, and flower gardens with her mom.