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The adult crane fly has a slender body and stilt-like legs that are deciduous, easily coming off the body. The wingspan is generally about 1 to 6.5 centimeters. The antennae have up to 39 segments. It is also characterized by a V-shaped suture on the back of the thorax and by its wing venation. The rostrum is long; in some species it is as long as the head and thorax together.
Crane flies are found worldwide, though individual species usually have limited ranges. They are most diverse in the tropics, and are also common in northern latitudes and high elevations.
Larvae may eat algae, microflora, and living or decomposing plant matter, including wood. Some are predatory. The adult female usually contains mature eggs as she emerges from her pupa, and often mates immediately if a male is available. Males also search for females by walking or flying. Copulation takes a few minutes to hours and may be accomplished in flight. The female immediately oviposits, usually in wet soil or mats of algae. Some lay eggs on the surface of a water body or in dry soils, and some reportedly simply drop them in flight. Most crane fly eggs are black in color. They often have a filament, which may help anchor the egg in wet or aquatic environments.