Crane Flies

Facts, Identification & Control


What do they look like?

  • Color: Adult crane flies are black, red, or yellow in color, depending on species.
  • Size: Crane flies may be mistaken at times for mosquitoes, but they are significantly larger with extremely long legs and have elongated faces.
  • Wings: Crane fly wings may be transparent, brown, grayish-black or brownish-yellow. Some crane flies rest with extended wings, while others fold their wings flat.
  • Females: Female crane flies have extended abdomens, which house eggs and are capped with an ovipositor. Although these ovipositors appear similar to stingers, they are harmless and are only used for reproductive purposes.

How Did I Get Crane Flies?

In the fall and spring, lawns near wooded areas or open fields often have a population of crane flies. In their mature form, the adult females lay eggs in grass. Dampness and heavy rainfall increase their numbers.

How Serious Are Crane Flies?

Only in their larval state do these pests cause any real damage. After they hatch, crane fly larvae eat grass crowns and roots, leaving large brown patches on lawns. As adults, the insects are mostly a nuisance.

Mature crane flies often annoy residents when they fly into homes and bump against the walls or ceilings. Although they look like giant mosquitoes, the pests do not bite people or feed on blood. Since adult crane flies only live a few days, an entire generation may perish at the same time, creating foul-smelling piles of dead insects on sidewalks and driveways.

How Do I Get Rid of Crane Flies?

Your local Orkin technician is trained to help manage crane flies and similar pests. Since every building or home is different, your Orkin technician will design a unique program for your situation.

Orkin can provide the right solution to keep crane flies in their place…out of your home, or business.

Behavior, Diet & Habits

What Do They Eat?

Adults feed on nectar from flowers or other outdoor plants. Crane flies lay their eggs in the ground, where larvae feed on decaying wood and vegetation.

Where Do They Live?

Adult crane flies prefer to dwell in wet, mossy, old and open woodlands. Crane flies survive for several days, with most species living only long enough to complete the reproductive cycle.

More Information

Some Common names for crane flies include:

  • Jimmy spinners
  • Mosquito hawks
  • Mosquito eaters
  • Mosquito nippers
  • Gollywhoppers
  • Gallinippers

Although they are known as daddy long legs in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Ireland, and New Zealand, they are not at all similar to the arachnid that goes by the same name in the United States.

Crane Fly Control: How To Get Rid of Crane Flies

This page is a Crane Fly control guide. By using the products and methods suggested, you will get rid of crane flies. Follow this guide and use the recommended products, and we guarantee 100% control of crane flies.

If you are noticing brown patches in your grass, you might have a crane fly infestation. The crane fly, also commonly known as a mosquito hawk, looks similar to a mosquito, except it is much larger with longer legs. If left alone, this insect can cause noticeable damage to your lawn.

In the United States, the most prevalent species of crane fly is the European Crane Fly. Although they might have an intimidating look, this insect is harmless as an adult. It is the crane fly larvae that causes damage to vegetation, which is what the treatment will be focused on.

The larvae have the appearance of white or brown worms. Crane fly larvae are known to eat roots and stems.

If you have crane flies and want to get rid of them, our professional DIY treatment guide can help you to get rid of a crane fly infestation with ease.


Properly identifying the crane fly is the first step towards control.

Most people mistake crane flies for mosquitoes, but the crane fly is much bigger; it will typically grow to be about 2 inches long, while a mosquito will only grow to about a quarter of an inch long. Crane flies also have delicate bodies and long, thin legs. Another distinction is their feeding habits. Crane flies feed on vegetation, and the mosquito feeds on blood.

Identifying Crane Fly Larvae

Crane fly larvae may be green, white, or brown in color. They are often called leatherjackets and have extremely tough skin. They mainly hide in the soil unless it is a warm night. Crane fly larvae eat decaying matter, roots, and turf.


The next step in the control process is inspection. Inspecting the property for crane fly activity is important because this will ensure a more targeted application, and will prevent you from wasting product.

Where to Inspect

Crane flies are most active in spring and fall, and will lay their eggs in moist soil, so you will want to check around areas that tend to experience high levels of moisture. Scan the property, keeping an eye out for high-moisture areas, such as mulch beds, flower beds, near lawn fountains, or around the structure where faucets and other plumbing may drip or leak. Take note of these leaky or high-moisture areas, as they will need to be addressed in order to prevent re-infestations.

What to Look For

During your inspection, you are looking for both crane fly larvae and the presence of adults. Scan your yard, paying close attention to patches of discolored or dead grass. Inspect the soil in search of larvae by cutting a square foot section of your lawn. It is best to search the soil near the edge in search of healthy grass to feed on. Thoroughly check the sod and soil of the selected piece. If you can see crane fly larvae, you need to begin treatment as soon as possible. Keep an eye out for the crane fly adults to find where they lay their eggs.


Once you have completed your inspection and know the areas that need to be treated, you can begin the process of controlling crane flies. For effective crane fly control, use a combination of Reclaim I/T and Martin’s IG Regulator.

Reclaim I/T is a liquid concentrate that is labelled to not only control crane flies, but over 70 different insect pests. It is also a repellent, so it will create a deadly and preventative solution.

Because the crane fly larvae cause the most damage to your vegetation, you will mix in Martin’s IG Regulator with your Reclaim. Martin’s IG Regulator is an insect growth regulator (IGR), which will disrupt the life cycle of nuisance flies and other common pests. Any crane fly larvae that come into contact with this IGR will not be able to develop into adults. Using an IGR with an adulticide like Reclaim can give you faster and more effective control because you are targeting every stage of the pest’s life cycle.

If you are looking for crane fly prevention, it is important to note that Reclaim I/T should only be used from August to February. If Reclaim I/T is applied at any time before or after this, it will only suppress the presence of crane flies rather than control them.

Step 1 – Measure and Mix Reclaim I/T and Martin’s I.G. Regulator

First, determine how much product you need by measuring the square footage of your treatment area or lawn. This can be done by measuring the width and length of your lawn, and then multipying those numbers together (length x width = square feet.)

You will mix both products together in 1 gallon sprayer to create a single finished solution. One gallon of solution is typically enough to treat 1,000 square feet. For crane fly control, you will mix Reclaim I/T with water at a rate of 0.5 ounces per 1,000 square feet. You will then add Martin’s I.G. Regulator at a rate of 1 ounce per 1,000 square feet.

To mix, begin by adding 1/4 gallon of water to the spray tank. Add the appropriate amounts of Reclaim I/T and Martin’s IGR to the spray tank, then add the remaining 3/4 gallon of water to the spray tank. Shake well to agitate.

Step 2 – Apply Mixed Solution

Once you have a thorough mix, you are ready to apply. Broadcast your spray over the turf area. Apply with a low-pressure, coarse spray. Use a fan-tip spray setting to ensure even coverage and spray at a steady pace, moving from the back of the turf area to the front.

You can also spray around cracks and crevices outside your property to prevent crane flies and other pests from entering the structure. Spray around common entry points such as doors, windows, weep holes, vents, and where plumbing and electrical wires penetrate the walls.


After eliminating crane flies, you will need to take preventative measures with your lawn in order to completely get rid of your crane fly infestation. Here are some steps to take for total elimination of crane flies.

Be sure to reapply Reclaim I/T every 90 days for continued control. Properly maintaining your area is essential to ensure that crane flies will not want to be in your lawn anymore. Be sure to keep your lawn healthy by mowing at the appropriate height, watering less frequently, removing lawn thatch, and making sure that your soil is properly aerated with adequate drainage. Like most common pests, crane flies are attracted to light. Switch outdoor light bulbs to bug bulbs that emit yellow light or turn off your outside lights at night to stop them from flying around the area.

Key Takeaways

  • Crane flies resemble mosquitoes, but are much larger and have long, thin legs.
  • Use a mixture of Reclaim I/T and Martin’s IG Regulator to control a crane fly infestation. Mix the products with water in a pump sprayer and apply to the affected areas to prevent crane flies from returning.
  • Reclaim I/T can only be applied from August-February for prevention. Application before or after these months will only suppress crane fly infestation.
  • Crane fly infestations can be avoided with proper lawn care and soil aeration.
  • Reapply Reclaim I/T every 90 days for crane fly prevention.

Crane Flies

Adult crane flies look like large, oversize mosquitoes. Depending on where you live, you may know them as mosquito hawks, mosquito eaters or daddy long-legs. Despite the nicknames, crane flies feed on flower nectar, not mosquitoes. It’s their larvae – known as “leatherjackets” due to their thick, tough skins – that damage and destroy lawns.

Identification: Adult crane flies are most active near twilight. They’re attracted to moist areas, including irrigated lawns. Their distinctively veined wings span about 1 inch. Plump leatherbacks are gray to olive-brown in color and grow up to 1 1/2 inches long. They look like a headless, legless caterpillar or grub.

Signs/Damage: Leatherjackets feed on all parts of grass plants from the roots and crowns to the blades. Feeding is heaviest in fall, right after the pests hatch, and again in spring when they start feeding on grass again. Damage is most obvious in spring, as fall-damaged grass thins and irregular brown patches begin to die. Use a shovel to separate the damaged grass layer from the soil, and you’ll find leatherjackets feeding.

Control: Effective crane fly control involves preventive and active treatments. Early spring treatments target the leatherjacket larvae, which overwinter in soil, before they damage lawns. Late-summer and fall treatments target emerging adults and newly hatched larvae. GardenTech® brand offers a highly effective option to kill crane fly larvae by contact:

  • Sevin® Insect Killer Granules kill and control leatherjackets above and below the soil line. Then the product keeps protecting against these pests and up to 100 others for up to three months. Apply the granules with a regular lawn spreader for thorough, uniform coverage. Then water immediately to release the active ingredients into the soil.

These GardenTech® products kill adult crane flies and up to 500 other pests by contact and keep protecting for up to three months:+

  • Sevin® Insect Killer Concentrate, applied with a pump-style sprayer, simplifies treating lawn areas where crane flies are expected or where damage occurs. Spray thoroughly to cover grass or other plant surfaces completely.
  • Sevin® Insect Killer Ready to Spray attaches to your garden hose to mix and measure as you spray. Cover all affected areas thoroughly to treat existing pests and protect against additional crane fly damage.

Tip: Birds, skunks and raccoons digging in your lawn may signal leatherjackets are feeding on turf. Treat promptly to kill the pests before damage becomes severe.

+Except ticks

Always read product labels and follow the instructions carefully.

GardenTech is a registered trademark of Gulfstream Home and Garden, Inc.

Sevin is a registered trademark of Tessenderlo Kerley, Inc.


  • ‘European crane fly’ by Oregon State University licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
  • ‘Leatherjacket’ by Simon licensed under CC BY 2.0
  • ‘Leatherjacket’ by Simon licensed under CC BY 2.0

How to get rid of Leather Jackets

Here are our top tips for identifying and controlling these pesky critters:

  • The easiest way to check for the larvae is to dig a series of small test holes with a fork, to a depth of about three inches below the lawn surface.
  • Pay particular attention to any areas of turf which appear stressed or thinning, particularly around the edges in shady areas, next to a fence or wall etc. If your lawn has been affected you will notice that the root structure will be very weak.
  • Where possible try to eliminate the grubs from the lawn before they cause any more damage. The most effective solution is to either cover the whole lawn (or just the affected area) overnight with black plastic sheeting – this encourages the grubs to come to the surface so they can be brushed off and destroyed.

If a lawn has become extremely bare the grubs will need to be eradicated before re-seeding or turfing is carried out. This might take some time, so try rotovating and leaving the soil so birds and other natural predators can feed on the grubs. Lawntech’s sister company Hewlett Turf & landscapes Ltd can rotovate your lawn quickly and easily to assist with this.

As we move to becoming a pesticide free nation, the best form of protection is prevention. Recent changes in EU legislation have restricted the use of pesticides but you can employ organic solutions which don’t require a pesticide certificate. These are called ‘nematodes’, which are microscopic worms. They enter the grubs and infect them with a bacterial disease which kills them. Nematodes are available from various horticultural suppliers, but be warned; timing, soil moisture and the age of the larvae are all critical if the treatment is to be successful. In our experience, results tend to be very poor so Lawntech does not offer this as a service.

Here is our guide for using Nematodes and other organic methods

The Nematodes (or Steinernema Feltiae) should be watered onto the lawn between August and October, when the ground temperature is still warm. The soil should also be moist, so the nematodes can be at their most effective. This treatment may also be effective on very young grubs during April and May, once the soil temperature is above 12 degrees.

Another way to remove Leather Jackets from the lawn is to cover the area with a large black plastic sheet overnight. This will encourage the larvae to come to the surface of the lawn, so they can be brushed off and destroyed once the sheet is removed in the morning.

Although adult Daddy Long Legs only live for around three days, the larvae can be lurking under the surface of your lawn for quite a while and finding them isn’t always easy. Lawntech has experts who can quickly identify the larvae – and if you are currently participating in an annual lawn care programme from a professional company, your lawn care technician should be looking for them as part of his regular schedule

Need help with what to do in your garden?

Q What are leatherjackets?

A These pests are the grubs or larvae of crane-flies (Tipula species) better known by their common name, daddylong-legs. They have long thin legs, narrow bodies and slender wings. Although several different kinds of crane-fly produce damaging leatherjacket grubs, they are hard to distinguish. They all do similar damage and are dealt with in the same way.

Caption: Leatherjackets cause dead patches in lawns

Q What damage do leatherjackets do?

A Leatherjackets eat the underground parts of plants, including seeds. Sometimes on warm humid nights, they come up to the surface to feed, cutting through plant stems at soil level and munching holes in the foliage. Where plants are close together, as in lawns, bare dead patches can result. Where plants are further apart – in borders or the vegetable garden, for example – the first you know of an attack is the sudden wilting and death of the plants. The cause of this damage can be confirmed by scraping away the soil or lifting turf. The culprits will not be far away.

Q How do I recognise leatherjackets?

A Look for grubs 2.5-4cm long. They are greyish brown or even black, with tough leathery skins enclosing a soft body. Leatherjackets do not have a distinct head or legs. Their colour makes them difficult to spot.

Caption: Leatherjacket grubs can be tricky to spot

Q Could I mistake leatherjackets for anything else?

A You are most likely to mistake them for cutworms. These are caterpillars with true legs at the head end and fleshy, sucker-like legs at the back. Unlike leatherjackets, the head of the cutworm is clearly recognisable. Chafer grubs are bigger, comma-shaped, with a bulbous cream abdomen and a brown head with true legs at the other end. Wireworms are long and thin and have true legs at the head end. Often you will also find other fly-type larvae in the soil. These belong to Bibionid flies that feed on organic matter in the soil. They are usually harmless; they’re thinner and smaller than leatherjackets, with a distinct black head. If present in large numbers they may do a little local damage. In pots you may find sciarid fly larvae.

Q When do leatherjackets usually turn up?

A They really get going in the spring. At this time they are about 10mm long and big enough to cause a lot of damage in a short time. They are most numerous after a warm, wet and mild autumn, which favours survival of the tiny, newly hatched leatherjackets. When these first hatch in autumn, they often fall victim to drought. The good news is that leatherjackets become inactive from midsummer onwards, when they start to pupate.

Q Are leatherjackets a problem in containers?

A Soil used in soil-based composts should come from turves stacked until they have rotted into good soil. Although these are prime leatherjacket sites, soil is sterilised by reputable manufacturers and this finishes off any pests. If you are making your own container compost from soil, sterilise it by heating in an oven (15 mins at 120°C). Soil-free compost should be safe. However, leatherjackets have been known to enter pots from infested soil beneath the container. If this could happen with your pots, try standing them on black polythene sheets.

Q Can I tell if leatherjackets are present before planting?

A If daddy-long-legs are numerous and the autumn is mild, be suspicious. If you suspect that leatherjackets are present, you can use the trapping method described below to flush them out. However, this check is only worth doing when the ground has recently been covered by grass, including grass weeds. You will probably spot them when you dig the site over in spring. Pay special attention to clumps of weeds, especially grassy weeds, and grass edges. Birds pecking at the soil in winter, and at lawns in spring and early summer, are another sign of leatherjackets’ presence.

Q Can you tell me more about leatherjackets?

A Crane-flies are on the wing in late summer, often in large numbers. They lay up to 300 eggs in the soil at this time. Their eggs are like minute oval seeds and hatch in two weeks. If conditions are dry, many leatherjackets will perish, but if they survive they will feed on plant roots. When they are small, however, their appetites are too meagre to cause significant damage. When the weather becomes cold, they feed very slowly. In spring, they are larger, feed more and soon reach their full size. In summer, they retreat deeper into the soil to pupate, or form chrysalids. When the crane-fly is ready to emerge, the pupa pushes nearer the surface.

Q How can I control leatherjackets?

A There are no chemicals approved for amateurs against leatherjackets. A biological control (steinernema) is available though. In smaller lawns the best method is to flush leatherjackets out by saturating the soil with water in the evening and covering the surface with a tarpaulin or a black plastic sheet. By morning the leatherjackets will be lying on the surface and can be collected and destroyed or left for the birds. In beds and borders, pick out any leatherjackets while digging and weeding. Eradicate grass weeds and if all else fails, replant after midsummer when the leatherjackets become inactive. In fact if they are very numerous, don’t plant until midsummer and keep the ground weed-free until then to starve them out. Grass weeds have a habit of growing vigorously in late summer and autumn, which provides ideal leatherjacket conditions.

Caption: Biological control is an effective way of dealing with leatherjackets

Q Is it worth killing the adult leatherjackets?

A Not really – there are so many in favourable seasons that you would have to spray them, and this would be likely to kill helpful insects as well.

Q Are there any other ways I can avoid leatherjackets?

A Getting plants off to a flying start will help them withstand mild attacks. Raise transplants in pots and cell trays. Sow in warm moist soil and use fleece to boost early growth. Also don’t thin the seedlings too early. Spread over lots of plants, attacks can be tolerated. Where they pick on just a few plants, damage can be fatal. Top-dressing lawns and other plants with nitrogen fertiliser will help plants grow away from vulnerable stages and recover from any damage.

Q Are there any resistant plants?

A Potatoes are generally regarded as immune.

Q Once I have got rid of leatherjackets, will they come back?

A No. As long as you keep grass weeds under control, beds and borders should remain free of this pest. However, leatherjackets may sneak back in grass edges. If you sow grass after a season of leatherjackets, you may find that they return more quickly.

Q Can’t I just leave leatherjacket control to nature?

A Often you can get away with ignoring minor infestations. Birds eat many leatherjackets and you can help them by forking over the soil in spring to expose the grubs. Beneficial parasites and diseases also destroy many leatherjackets.

Lawn Master Blog

Leatherjackets Explained: What to Look For & Preventing Damage

14th Oct 2013

Although 2013 has overall been a much better year compared to last year weather-wise, the difference in conditions can increase the likelihood of certain turf pests.

As you probably already know, Crane flies (or daddy-long-legs to most people), were everywhere in September. They started appearing in July and August indoors and out and by September we see them all the time, including on our lawns.

Anyone who has heard of the words “crane flies” and “turf” used in the same sentence usually knows that the result is Leatherjackets. The crane flies can lay hundreds of eggs in turf, which later hatch after around 2-3 weeks.

The result is the larval stage, called Leatherjackets, which are pests that feed off the grass roots in the turf.

One of the main problems with Leatherjackets is that it can take a while to even notice they are present, at which point quite a lot of damage has already been caused.

When the larvae first hatch, they will tend to feed at a higher level in the turf whilst the weather is still warm. However, as the temperatures start to drop in autumn, they will move down lower, making them harder to identify upon inspection.

Throughout autumn and winter, damage is minimal. However, once temperatures increase again in spring, the larvae move closer to the surface again, making damage far more apparent. The pests will be most active in dry summers meaning that the damage can often be confused with grass lacking in water or being stressed.

The most common and obvious indicator to most people is when birds start pecking away at the lawn to eat the Leatherjackets. The mess left by the birds prompts most people to take a look in the soil, just under the turf level.

How Can I Identify Leatherjackets Before the Damage has Been Done?

Like anything, prevention is always better than cure, so identifying Leatherjackets before next years damage occurs is far better than being hit with the repair costs afterwards.

As explained earlier, identifying that the larvae are present can be quite difficult as damage is minimal at first.

You can test areas of your lawn every so often to try and identify Leatherjackets by using a knife to carefully cut a section of your lawn, so that you can see just under the turf level. Just ensure that the section is cut out very tidily so that it can be put back in place properly afterwards.

Another method is to try and peel back areas of your lawn. If the turf easily rips up like a mat, then you may have Leatherjackets which have already fed on some of the roots.

An old trick which many greenkeepers use is to soak an area and place down a sheet on the area overnight. This makes any Leatherjackets come to the surface of the lawn, making it instantly easier to identify whether they are present or not, and if treatment is required.

If you decide to try this method, just make sure that you put some weight on the sheet to stop it blowing away in the night.

What Can be Done if my lawn appears to be infested with Leatherjackets next year?

Insecticide treatments are required to kill Leatherjackets. Depending on the level of damage, lawn renovation processes may need to be completed afterwards.

All Lawn Master operators are checking customers lawns for the larvae at the moment. If identified, it’s always better to have treatment in say November rather than next year before any real damage is caused.

The pictures below show a lawn infested with Leatherjackets, and the same lawn after treatment and some renovation work.

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Leatherjacket Pests: Controlling Leatherjacket Larvae In Your Lawn

Your lawn is looking pretty scruffy about midsummer, and you’re wondering about leatherjackets – those ugly-looking pests you may see pushing up through dead patches and dried up turf. Read on to learn more about destructive leatherjacket pests and leatherjacket grub control.

Leatherjacket Pests in Your Lawn

Exactly what are leatherjacket insects? Leatherjacket pests aren’t actually insects. The grub-like pests are the larval stage of daddy long legs, also known as leatherjacket crane flies – those big, mosquito-like bugs that fly around your porch light in late summer. Leatherjacket pests, which live in the soil, can definitely do their share of harm when they eat the roots and the base of plants.

Adult leatherjacket crane flies lay their eggs in the grass in late summer. The eggs hatch two or three weeks later, and the greyish-brown, tube-shaped larvae immediately begin feeding on plant roots. Leatherjacket pests overwinter in the soil and generally don’t do significant damage until late spring or early summer (or maybe a little earlier if winters are mild). The full grown larvae soon pupate in the soil, and you may see the empty cases sticking out of the soil surface.

Leatherjacket Grub Control

Controlling leatherjacket larvae in your lawn isn’t always necessary. If you’re lucky, leatherjackets may be snatched up by hungry crows, magpies or robins (or even cats). However, the downside is that birds may do their own share of lawn damage by pecking at the soil in search of the juicy grubs.

If the infestation is severe, you may need to turn to biological, organic, or even chemical means of controlling leatherjacket larvae in your lawn.

  • Biological control – A beneficial nematode by the unwieldy name of Steinememe feltiae is an effective means of leatherjacket grub control. When the tiny nematodes, commonly known as eelworms, enter the bodies of leatherjacket larvae, they infect them with a deadly bacterial disease. The nematodes, which are available at garden centers by a number of more pronounceable product names, are generally applied as a preventive measure in autumn.
  • Organic control – Water the area well (or wait for a good rain) and cover the affected area with black plastic. Leave the plastic overnight and then remove it, along with the attached grubs, in the morning (Pull the plastic up slowly or the grubs may escape back into the soil.). It’s an unpleasant job, but removing the grubs in this manner is very effective.
  • Chemical control – Chemicals generally aren’t recommended and are best applied by a pest control professional, and only as a last resort. However, you may find helpful products at your local garden center.

Grass Clippings – Lawn Advice From a Team of Lawn and Turf Experts

We are all aware of “Daddy Long Legs” flying around in the late summer months, being chased by the cat and dog with children finding fun pulling the legs off the fly like insects!

What you may not be aware of is the devastating effect the larvae of the insects can have – literally stripping a lawn bare! Do not under estimate them!

What are they?

Leatherjackets are the Larvae of the Crane Fly or Daddy Long Legs, as they are more commonly known. The fully grown Larvae are typically up to 4 cm in length.

Patches of dead or dying grass similar to the feeding action of Chafer Beetle Larvae are visual evidence of commonly known. They are legless dirty grey or brown grubs that live in the soil just beneath the grass and merrily eat away at the grass roots and grass stems. an infestation of Leatherjackets. No grass root growth = poor stressed turf grasses and ultimately bare areas.

Early and correct pest identification is important

When a pest problem is suspected, the turf should be examined thoroughly to find the culprit. Pests are often found first in stressed areas, such as the edges of lawns or in shady or wet areas. They are not usually distributed evenly so it is advisable to look for spots that have discoloured, stunted or distorted turf. Insects tend to proceed outward from a central point; therefore they are generally most active on the outside edge.

What do the adults look like?

The long legs give the adult their name of Daddy Long Legs. The adults can lay up to 300 eggs each and invasion of emerging adults from their final Pupae stage is common in the UK. The adults are most active at night and can easily jettison away from predators.

Control measures

There is little or no benefit renovating and repairing any damage to your lawn until you have killed the Larvae. As Leatherjackets live in the soil for one year only they are easily controlled with an approved Insecticide application which will control them via the fumitory, ingestion and contact action of the control product. It is common for the Larvae to work their way to the surface of the lawn following application. They can be sucked or swept up.

Leatherjackets live for one year unlike the Larvae of Chafer Beetles that live for 3 years in the soil. Leatherjackets live in the area of soil just below the turf grass root zone. Get your garden or pen knife out and dig below the surface to locate some, preferably in an area that adjoins an area where the birds have been pecking. If present in the soil, you will easily discover the Larvae just below the surface of the grass. Our Team has counted up to 200 Larvae per single square metre!

The eggs are laid in the soil by the young adult Crane Flies in the early autumn, living for only a few days before the cat gets them!
The traditional peak egg laying period is the second week of September but the prevailing weather conditions may change this slightly. The eggs hatch after only two or three weeks and the Larvae soon commence their feeding during the winter months onwards.

Control them by applying an insecticide based on an active ingredients of Chlorpyrifos or Imidacloprid as soon as you have performed a positive identification, usually in the period October through to the late spring or early summer months, dependant upon the soil moisture and soil temperature in the early spring.

Prevention is always better than cure so once one application has been performed; repeat annually if repeated outbreaks are common particularly in light sandy soil areas. The control product will not control any eggs so do not be tempted to apply the control product too early in September before the adults have laid their eggs and these have actually hatched in the soil.

Go exploring in the soil beneath the grass roots…

The Larvae feed on the roots of grasses during the early spring to summer months. They cause yellow/brown patches and, as the grasses are eaten off at the same level, it may well be that a complete carpet of turf can be removed in tact.

There are usually less numerous and less troublesome than Chafer Beetle Larvae but their presence is usually seen the first time the lawn gets stressed by cold, drought or by the frenzied activity of large birds like Crows, Rooks and Magpies.

The net result of an infestation – no grass roots, or grass stems, no lawn and a lot of ripped up areas once the birds have gone!

How to get rid of leatherjackets:

How to get rid of leatherjackets

Tipula paludosa, known as crane flies or daddy-longlegs, emerge from the soil in enormous numbers during late summer. When the adult crane fly lays its eggs in the earth, the larval form known as “leatherjackets” develop over the coming year. As the year winds down to winter the larvae burrow deeper into the soil and then return to the surface the following summer.

Once fully developed, the adult crane fly emerges from the soil and can be seen across the UK from April through to October and are greatest in number in late summer. The adult crane fly can survive for several days but will usually mate and lay their eggs within the first 24 hours, giving rise to a new generation of leatherjackets.

Leatherjackets are a problem for gardeners and farmers because they feed on the roots of grasses and crops, causing the plants to die. This can result in large patches of bare grass in the garden or failing crops in agriculture. While they are a garden pest, crane flies provide a valuable food source to many species including the golden plover. Hot summers as a result of climate change are negatively impacting the number of crane flies, meaning many chicks starve. The Wildlife Trust is working to provide a greener future so that vulnerable species like the golden plover are protected from such change.

How to get rid of leatherjackets:

Leatherjackets are the root-chewing grubs of daddy-longlegs or crane flies, and their favourite meal is turf. The easiest way to spot leatherjackets in your garden is to come across the long grey/brown grubs when digging. Signs of leatherjackets can also include birds pecking at your grass or patches of grass coming away without any roots.

To get rid of leatherjackets, try using a nematode treatment that you can apply to affected areas after rain or a session with the sprinkler. Nematodes are microscopic worms, and certain species predate the leatherjackets. Nematodes are natural and some will be in your lawn already, but applying more ensures they kill the grubs.

For more wildlife advice from The English Garden, click here.

Controlling leatherjackets

This concluded field lab examined ways of controlling leatherjackets, including biological control, now that Dursban (containing chlorpyrifos) has been banned.

Leatherjackets (the larvae of crane-flies, or daddy long-legs, as they are better known) eat the roots and shoots of cereal plants such as barley, oats and wheat, as well as grass. This can have a devastating effect on these crops. The crane-fly lays its eggs in tussocky grass in late summer, so cereal crops sown after grass are very susceptible to leatherjacket attack. Dursban (which contains organo-phosphate chemical called chlorpyrifos) was the only chemical non-organic farmers could use to control leatherjackets, and it was banned in March 2016. There is very little known about alternative ways to control leatherjackets, and as this is now a problem that affects everyone, we’re keen to know more about what could work.

Find out more about our full range of field labs in Scotland.

Find out more about this field lab

Contact us to find out more about this field lab, or to get involved. We’ll be posting reports and key information here as it becomes available. Read more about activity so far:

Adults lay eggs between July and September in grass and cereals

  • Eggs hatch 2-3 weeks later and the larvae feed in mild spells during autumn to late spring, pupating in the soil late May-June

  • 90% of the time adults stay and lay eggs near to where they emerge, causing the population to continue to increase in the same field if they are not dealt with.

    There are several signs that indicate the presence of leatherjackets:

  • Large numbers of adult Crane flies in July and August

  • Feeding by rooks, crows and starlings

  • Bare patches appearing in the grass

Leatherjackets feed on the roots and stems of grass plants at or below ground level.

  • New leys – Reseeded leys can be completely destroyed by leatherjackets

  • Established grassland – Leatherjacket feeding not only reduces yield, but can also lead to the destruction of large areas of fields. At the economic threshold of 1 million per hectare, the weight of leatherjackets feeding below ground can be greater than the weight of livestock above ground

    Ploughing grassland in July and subsequent cultivations can destroy up to 50% of leatherjackets.

    Dursban* 4 insecticide gives reliable, consistently high levels of control of leatherjackets. It is acknowledged as the standard treatment. The control achieved is such that dry matter yield can by increased by as much as 80%. Treatment with 1.5 L/ha of Dursban 4 before the first signs of damage could save the crop from months of feeding. This will increase the yield response considerably.

    Crops identified at risk should be sprayed at the earliest signs of damage. Avoid periods of prolonged frost as pests are less active. Temperatures above 5°C give best results as that is when leatherjackets are near the soil surface. Spray 1.5 L/ha Dursban 4 in 200-1000 litres water.


    Dow AgroSciences have received notification from the Irish regulatory authorities (PCD) concerning the current approval for chlorpyrifos-ethyl containing products (sold in the Republic of Ireland under the trade name Dursban 4). This notification outlines the timelines for the managed withdrawal of all chlorpyrifos-ethyl containing products and including dates for usage, storage and disposal of the product.

    Below please find the timelines concerning the withdrawal of Dursban.

  • Dursban 4 cannot be sold by distributors, wholesalers or retailers after the 31stMarch 2016.
  • Growers cannot spray Dursban 4 after the 31st March 2016.
  • Dursban 4 can be stored by wholesalers/retailers and growers up to and including the 30th September 2016 to facilitate product recovery by Whelehan Crop Protection.
  • Dursban 4 that is one year old or less can be returned via the supply chain (retailers and wholesalers) if unopened and in good general condition. Dursban 4 that is older than one year and/or opened and/or considered in poor condition must be disposed of as hazardous waste at the expense of the person in possession of the product.

With the chemical option gone to control these pest we have to start looking at alternatives because these pests can devastate new leys if not controlled, but the risks can be avoided through effective cultivations and the use of brassica break crops.

The use of fast–establishing hybrid brassicas (such as Swift or Redstart) or Maris Kestrel kale have the added benefits of providing an additional source of high quality grazing, reducing the effect of any forage shortfalls between leys. This can be timed to provide late summer, autumn or even winter grazing for cattle or sheep.”

Ploughing and cultivating in summer, and sowing a break crop, will disrupt the life cycle of the crane fly and is known to reduce leatherjacket populations by 50%.


What Are Leatherjacket Larvae?

Leatherjackets are the larvae of the crane fly, or as it is most commonly known the daddy long legs. The female crane fly will lay her eggs in a lawn, up to 300 during the autumn, which hatch within a matter of weeks. Once hatched the larvae wreak havoc on your lawn by attacking the grass root or encourage predators such has badgers, birds and foxes to dig for these juicy morsels.

How Can I Spot Leatherjackets?

Once the larvae begin to eat the grass roots, the lawn will develop yellowish/brown patches and dies. By lifting a small section of the turf you will be able to see the leatherjackets in the affected layers of the soil. During periods of high rain fall the water forces the leatherjackets up onto the lawns surface making them visible to the human eye.

Leatherjacket Insect Control

Biological insect control (also known as nematodes) treatment helps with leather jacket insect control. It can only be used in the right conditions – the soil temperature must be above 12 degrees so application is recommended between July and October. Furthermore, the soil must be moist in order for the nematodes to survive once applied. In preparation of the application the lawn should be mowed and spiked to ensure that the nematodes have maximum opportunity to reach the pests inhabiting in the top layer of soil. The nematodes will be mixed with water and applied to the lawn using a backpack sprayer.

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