Ptychoptera contaminata
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Diptera
Suborder: Nematocera
Infraorder: Ptychopteromorpha
Family: Ptychopteridae


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.

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.


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

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