Nature: Leave the daddies alone

They don't bite. They don't sting. They don't carry disease. All they do is fly around looking for a mate, and occasionally pop into your house by mistake. By Éanna Ní Lamhna

Daddy, daddy long legs

Never says his prayers

Catch him by the long legs

And fling him down the stairs.

This is what many people are tempted to do at the moment, as it would seem that every time they open the window these hot nights, hordes of these insects fly in. In fact there are so many of them this year that they are making an appearance during the day as well. I received the following email from Athenry:

"The estate in which I live is being overrun with swarms of Crane Flies (if that is the correct name for a Daddy Long Legs). Is this a good year for these creatures, or is it just that I never noticed them before? We are wondering if the decorative pond in the estate is their breeding ground, and are we therefore infested because we live so close to the pond? Last week we watched birds pick them off the walls of the house for food, but even this has stopped – perhaps the birds are so well fed with them that they are now looking for a change of diet."

So what is going on? Well these Daddy Long Legs, or Crane Flies, are the adults of the Leather Jacket Grub that lives in the soil and they have an annual life cycle. At this time of year, they are fully mature adults flying around looking for a mate. They get distracted by bright lights, so you only have yourself to blame if you lure them into your house by leaving the window open and the light on. Adults do no harm at all to us or to our crops. They can only lap up liquids with their fleshy tongues.Daddy Long Legs

After a successful courtship, the females deposit hundreds of small black eggs in the soil. The largest Irish species, pictured here, is plentiful near lakes, ponds, rivers and streams. When the larvae hatch out from the eggs, they feed on the roots of the semi-aquatic plants that grow there. So it is the soil around the decorative pond of the Athenry email writer that is to blame, since this is where the eggs are being laid. These larvae – the Leather Jackets – feed all through the winter and only change to adults the following summer by pupating and emerging winged. With our milder winters, more and more of them are now surviving and going on to become the hordes of adult Daddy Long Legs' we see at present. Why aren't the birds eating them? Well, birds are not feeding their young at this time of year so they don't need the lorry-loads of creepy crawlies they were collecting last May.

All of the creatures will be gone soon, if it is any consolation. When they have mated and laid eggs, the adults will die off and the next generation will start over again in the soil. Why should we be so reluctant to share the world with them – they don't bite or sting, they don't carry disease. This myth that they carry a most poisonous venom is just that – a myth. A spider with long legs that lives in the ceiling corners of houses is sometimes known as the Daddy Long Legs spider and it, like all spiders, does contain venom. It cannot harm us, though, as it is far too small to bite us.

So get a grip if you see a creepy-crawlie with long legs. If it has wings, it is a poor harmless Daddy Long Legs out on the pull. Leave it alone!