Ptychopteridae, the phantom crane flies, is a small family (three extant genera) of nematocerous Diptera. Superficially similar in appearance to other "tipuloid" families, they lack the ocelli of Trichoceridae, the 5-branched radial vein of Tanyderidae, and the two anal veins that reach the wing margin of Tipulidae. They are usually allied with the Tanyderidae based on similarities of the mesonotal suture, this group being called the Ptychopteromorpha.
Ptychoptera albimana (Paleartic) has a mean of 554 eggs laid. The shape being slightly arcuated, "curiously ornamented" and roughly 0.8 by 0.2 millimetres (0.0315 in × 0.0079 in). Duration is reported at 7 days.
The larvae are eucephalous and distinctive for the long, caudal respiratory siphon they possess. At hatching they measure just under 4 millimetres (0.16 in) in P. albimana, quickly growing to nearly 80 millimetres (3.1 in). They occur in moist habitats (described as "wet swales and meadows" for Ptychoptera; along lentic shorelines and Alder swamps for Bittacomorpha) where they feed as collector-gatherers on decaying organic matter.
The pupae possess a single, greatly elongated spiracular horn protruding from their thorax. In Ptychoptera and Bittacomorpha it is the right horn that is elongated; in Bittacomorphella it is the left. Reported times spent in this stage vary from 5 to 12 days.
The adults are found most often from late spring through to autumn in shaded, moist environs. It is presumed that adults feed little, if at all. There are two generations per year.
The common species of Eastern North America (Bittacomorpha clavipes) is known for the odd habit of spreading out its legs while flying, using expanded, trachea-rich tarsi to waft along on air currents.
Why they are called “phantom” crane flies: Their legs are thin and black with white sheaths near the tips, and when they fly under a shady tree, everything disappears except the white spots, appearing and disappearing like a “phantom”.
Ptychopterinae – 16 antennomeres; M1 cell present
- Ptychoptera Meigen, 1803
Bittacomorphinae – 20 antennomeres; M1 & M2 veins fused, thus without M1 cell
- Bittacomorpha Westwood, 1835
- Bittacomorphella Alexander, 1916
The general appearance of the two forms is strikingly different. The species of Bittacomorphinae are similar in size and shape to the Tipulidae, but exhibit a striking black & white coloration — hence the common name "phantom crane flies". The two genera differ as adults in their size and the extent of white coloration on the legs. The larvae of Bittacomorphella possess unique protuberances not seen in the other two genera. Ptychoptera resemble large Mycetophilids, being generally a shiny black and often with patterned wings.
- Alexander, C.P. 1928. Diptera. Fam. Ptychopteridae. Genera Insectorum 188: 1–12
- Borror, D.J., C.A. Triplehorn, & N.A. Johnson. 1989. An Introduction to the Study of Insects, Sixth edition. Saunders College Publishing.
- Byers, G.W. & D.A. Rossman. 2004. Preliminary survey of the crane flies of Louisiana (Diptera: Tipulidae, Ptychopteridae). Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington, 106: 884–890.
- Stubbs, A.E. 1993. Provisional Atlas of the Ptychopteroid Craneflies (Diptera: Ptychopteridae) of Britain and Ireland. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
- Zwick, P. 2004. Fauna Europaea: Ptychopteridae. In: Fauna Europaea: Diptera: Nematocera. H. DeJong, ed.
- Catalog of Life
- Bug Guide
- Ptychopteridae at Insects of Quebec webpage
- Photograph of larva at Troutnut.com website
- Diptera.info Gallery