The Ptychopteridae, phantom crane flies, are a small family (three extant genera) of nematocerous Diptera. Superficially similar in appearance to other "tipuloid" families, they lack the ocelli of the Trichoceridae, the five-branched radial vein of the Tanyderidae, and the two anal veins that reach the wing margins of the Tipulidae. They are usually allied with the Tanyderidae based on similarities of the mesonotal suture, this group being called the Ptychopteromorpha.

Ptychoptera contaminata
Ptychoptera contaminata
Scientific classification


Life history


Ptychoptera albimana (Paleartic) has a mean of 554 eggs laid. The shape is slightly arcuated, "curiously ornamented", and roughly 0.8 mm × 0.2 mm (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 mm (0.16 in) in P. albimana, quickly growing to nearly 80 mm (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 thoraces. In Ptychoptera and Bittacomorpha, the right horn is elongated; in Bittacomorphella, the left. Reported times spent in this stage vary from 5 to 12 days.

Ptychoptera 2
Ptychoptera quadrifasciata


The adults are found most often from late spring through to autumn in shaded, moist environs. Presumably, adults feed little, if at all. Two generations occur 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

  1. Ptychoptera Meigen, 1803

Bittacomorphinae – 20 antennomeres; M1 & M2 veins fused, thus without M1 cell

  1. Bittacomorpha Westwood, 1835
  2. Bittacomorphella Alexander, 1916

The general appearance of the two forms is strikingly different. The species of the Bittacomorphinae are similar in size and shape to the Tipulidae, but exhibit a striking black and 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 species resemble large mycetophilids, being generally a shiny black and often with patterned wings.


Scientific name Authority[1] Location Comments
Bittacomorpha (Westwood, 1835)
Bittacomorpha clavipes
Tipula clauipes
Fabricius, 1781 (both variants) Eastern North America, ranging as far west as the Rocky Mountains The most common and distinctive species
Bittacomorpha occidentalis Aldrich, 1895 Pacific Northwest
Bittacomorphella (Alexander, 1916)
Bittacomorphella esakii Tokunaga, 1938 Japan
Bittacomorphella fenderiana Alexander, 1947 Queen Charlotte Islands, south to Oregon Often confused with one another in the literature until the mid-1900s, when Alexander delimited them based on the male hypopygium.
Bittacomorphella jonesi Johnson, 1905 New England, south to North Carolina
also seen in Minnesota and Michigan
Bittacomorphella nipponensis Alexander, 1924
Bittacomorphella pacifica Alexander, 1958 Northern California, north to Oregon
Bittacomorphella sackenii Röder, 1890 Sierra Nevadas
Bittacomorphella thaiensis Alexander 1953
Ptychoptera (Meigen, 1803)
Ptychoptera byersi Alexander, 1966 California
Ptychoptera lenis Osten-Sacken, 1877 P. l. lenis: Pacific Northwest
P. l. coloradensis: Colorado and Utah
2 subspecies, as enumerated to the left
Ptychoptera metallica Walker, 1848 Central Canada, Minnesota, Michigan
Ptychoptera minor Alexander, 1920 California, Idaho
Ptychoptera monoensis Alexander, 1947 Northern California similar to P. pendula and P. townesi
Ptychoptera osceola Alexander, 1959 Florida similar to P. quadrifasciata
Ptychoptera pendula Alexander, 1937 British Columbia, south to Utah and Colorado similar to P. minor
Ptychoptera quadrifasciata
P. rufocinctus
Say, 1824 Eastern United States
Ptychoptera sculleni Alexander, 1943 Pacific Northwest considered to be fairly distinct based on male genitalia
Ptychoptera townesi Alexander, 1943 Washington, Oregon similar to P. pendula
Ptychoptera uta Alexander, 1947 Utah similar to P. l. coloradensis


  1. ^ Alexander, C.P. 1928. Diptera. Fam. Ptychopteridae. Genera Insectorum 188: 1–12

Further reading

  • 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.

External links


Bittacomorpha is a genus of phantom crane flies in the family Ptychopteridae. There are about 11 described species in Bittacomorpha.

Bittacomorpha clavipes

Bittacomorpha clavipes, known as the phantom crane fly (though this name can also apply to any member of Ptychopteridae), is a species of fly in the family Ptychopteridae. It is found in the eastern United States west to the Rocky Mountains.

It flies upright with its legs spread apart. Females lay hundreds of eggs by dipping their abdomen in the water.

Bittacomorpha occidentalis

Bittacomorpha occidentalis is a species of phantom crane flies in the family Ptychopteridae.


Bittacomorphella is a genus of pygmy phantom crane flies in the family Ptychopteridae. There are about 11 described species in Bittacomorphella.

Bittacomorphella jonesi

Bittacomorphella jonesi, the pygmy phantom crane fly, is a species of phantom crane fly in the family Ptychopteridae.


The Chironomoidea are a superfamily within the order Diptera, suborder Nematocera, infraorder Culicomorpha. This superfamily contains the families Chironomidae, Ceratopogonidae, Simuliidae, and Thaumaleidae. One of the more important characteristics used to define them is the form of the larval mouthparts.


The Nematocera (the name means "thread-horns") are a suborder of elongated flies with thin, segmented antennae and mostly aquatic larvae. Major families in the suborder include the mosquitoes, crane flies, gnats, black flies, and a group of families described as midges.

The Nematocera typically have fairly long, fine, finely-jointed antennae. In this they differ from the most familiar flies, the suborder Brachycera (the name means "short-horns"), which includes the house flies, blow flies and many similar flies; Brachycera generally have short, stubby antennae. In many species, such as most mosquitoes, the female antennae are more or less threadlike, but the males have spectacularly plumose antennae.

The larvae of most families of Nematocera are aquatic, either free-swimming, rock-dwelling, plant-dwelling, or luticolous. Some families however, are not aquatic; for instance the Tipulidae tend to be soil-dwelling and the Mycetophilidae feed on fungi such as mushrooms. Unlike most of the Brachycera, the larvae of Nematocera have distinct heads with mouthparts that may be modified for filter feeding or chewing, depending on their lifestyles.

The pupae are orthorrhaphous which means that adults emerge from the pupa through a straight, longitudinal seam in the dorsal surface of the pupal cuticle.

The bodies and legs of most adult Nematocera are elongated, and many species have relatively long abdomens.

Males of many species form mating swarms like faint pillars of smoke, competing for females that visit the cloud of males to find a mate.


Ptychoptera is a genus of phantom crane flies in the family Ptychopteridae. There are at least 70 described species in Ptychoptera.

Ptychoptera albimana

Ptychoptera albimana is a species of fly in the family Ptychopteridae. It can be found throughout the Palearctic but commonly found throughout Britain.

Ptychoptera contaminata

Ptychoptera contaminata is a species of fly in the family Ptychopteridae. It is found in the Palearctic .

Ptychoptera minuta

Ptychoptera minuta is a species of fly in the family Ptychopteridae. It is found in the Palearctic.

Ptychoptera quadrifasciata

Ptychoptera quadrifasciata is a species of phantom crane flies in the family Ptychopteridae.

Ptychoptera sculleni

Ptychoptera sculleni is a species of phantom crane flies in the family Ptychopteridae.

Ptychoptera townesi

Ptychoptera townesi is a species of phantom crane flies in the family Ptychopteridae.


The nematoceran infraorder Ptychopteromorpha includes two uncommon families. In older classifications, the group is included within the infraorder Tipulomorpha, but it does not appear to be closely related at all, having only superficial similarities (e.g., slender bodies and long legs).


The Tanyderidae, or primitive crane flies, of the order Diptera, are long, thin, delicate insects with spotted wings, superficially similar in appearance to some Tipulidae, Trichoceridae, and Ptychopteridae. Most species are restricted in distribution. They are found in many parts of the world, including North America, South America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and various islands in the Pacific Ocean. Adults are usually found hanging from vegetation near streams. Larvae are found either in sandy stream margins or in wet, rotten wood. Fossil species are known.


The Tephritoidea are a superfamily of flies. The following families are included:

Pallopteridae — flutter flies

Piophilidae — skippers

Platystomatidae — signal flies



Tephritidae — fruit flies

Ulidiidae (Otitidae) — picture-winged fliesThe Tachiniscinae, formerly ranked as the family Tachiniscidae, are now included in the Tephritidae.


The Tipulomorpha are an infraorder of Nematocera, containing the crane flies, a very large group, and allied families.

One recent classification based largely on fossils splits this group into a series of extinct superfamilies (below), and includes members of other infraorders, but this has not gained wide acceptance.


Trichoceridae, or winter crane flies, of the order Diptera are long, thin, delicate insects superficially similar in appearance to the Tipulidae, Tanyderidae, and Ptychopteridae. The presence of ocelli distinguishes the Trichoceridae from these other families. There are approximately 160 known species. The adults can be found flying in the fall and the spring and some are active even in the winter, hence their common name. They form dancing, loose swarms of mostly males. Adults can also be found resting inside caves and hollow logs. Larvae occur in moist habitats where they feed on decaying vegetable matter. They are of no economic importance.

Extant Diptera families


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