Is That a Cutworm Caterpillar? Back »

Written collaboratively by Adam Varenhorst, Patrick Wagner, and Amanda Bachmann.


We recently received a very interesting sample that originated from field of wheat stubble. At first glance we thought it may have been a cutworm species, however, there were many characteristics that were missing. There were also some traits present that did not match up with the description of any cutworm species. After some sleuthing, the mystery larva was determined to be that of a crane fly.

Crane Fly Profile

Crane fly adults are often mistaken for mosquitos. They have characteristic long legs, and a long abdomen. Depending on the species, crane flies can be quite large. For anyone who has ever tried to capture one of these flies, they know that their legs tend to fall off easily.

The larvae of crane flies are legless, and have heads that are narrower than the body. They also have small horn like projections that originate at the end of the abdomen (Figure 1). These larvae are gray in color, and similar in size to small cutworms.

Behavior & Management

What were the crane fly larvae doing in wheat stubble? Crane fly larvae are actually detritivores that feed on dead, decaying plant matter. It makes sense then, that they were observed in a field containing decaying plant matter (wheat stubble). These larvae are of no concern, and management is not needed.


Figure 1. Crane fly larva. Notice the small black head, and hornlike projections at the end of the body. Photo courtesy of Charlie Edinger.

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