Flying antennae

The helpful and knowledgeable staff of the Queensland Museum Network often assist members of the public with the identification of insect, animal, fossil and geological specimens. Our experts also answer questions about Queensland’s animals, rocks and fossils, people and history. In this section, we share some of these questions and answers with our readers.   

I found this intriguing-looking insect in a sealed tank of tadpoles. Is it a cranefly and if so, how did it get there? Is that long extension from the head incredibly long antennae or its proboscis? I can’t see whether the point of attachment is the head or mouth!

Yes, this striking insect is a cranefly. This particular species (Megistocera filipes) is not often seen or photographed although they are widespread in Australasia and south Asia. It would have hatched from an egg that was in the water with the tadpole eggs in your tank. Most cranefly species lay eggs in wet soil or decomposing plant matter. The spectacularly long antennae are a feature of the males only and it’s possible that they are used to locate a female.

Note the very, very long antennae of the cranefly Megistocera filipes. It also has distinctive wing veins and markings.

Although those long legs and wings make craneflies look a bit like giant mosquitoes, they do not bite. The larvae are maggot-like and are either aquatic or live in boggy conditions. In large numbers they can damage the roots of plants.


In 1935, a London plague of cranefly larvae affected the Lords Cricket Ground*. Larval activity led to bald patches on the pitch as well as an influx of starlings trying to eat them. The subsequent pockmarking of the ‘hallowed Lord’s pitch’ by the hungry starlings and interference with the players concentration caused headaches for all concerned!

*Cricket Grounds: The Evolution, Maintenance and Construction of Natural Turf Cricket Tables and Outfields (1991).  By Roger D. C. Evans

Each year, the Discovery Centre fields about 10,000 inquiries about a diverse range of topics including reptiles, frogs, spiders, birds and mammals, cultural heritage and paleontology.

Have your own question? Ask an expert here on our website or come into Queensland Museum today!