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A crane fly is an insect in the family Tipulidae. Adults are very slender, long-legged flies that may vary in length from 2–60 mm (0.079–2.4 in) though tropical species may exceed 100 mm (3.9 in). Up until recently, all of the members of the families Cylindrotomidae, Limoniidae, and Pediciidae were included within Tipulidae (at the rank of subfamily); they all share the same common names, and similar biology and morphology. Crane flies are commonly mistaken as "giant mosquitoes".
Crane flies have very long legs and long slender abdomens. The wings are often held out when at rest, making the large halteres easily visible. Unlike most flies, crane flies are weak and poor fliers with a tendency to "wobble" in unpredictable patterns during flight, and they can be caught without much effort. Crane flies vary in size, with temperate species ranging from 2 to 60 mm (0.079 to 2.4 in), while tropical species have been recorded at over 100 mm (3.9 in). The giant crane fly (Holorusia rubiginosa) of the western United States can reach 38 mm (1.5 in). Some Tipula species are 64 mm (2.5 in). Many smaller species are mosquito-sized, but they can be distinguished from mosquitoes by the V-shaped suture on the thorax, nonpiercing mouthparts, and a lack of scales on the wing veins. Female abdomens contain eggs, and as a result appear swollen in comparison to those of males. The female abdomen also ends in a pointed ovipositor that may look somewhat like a stinger, but is completely harmless. Adult mouthparts may occur on the end of the crane fly's long face, which is sometimes called a snout or a short rostrum. Larvae have a distinct head capsule, and their abdominal segments often have long fleshy projections surrounding the posterior spiracles (almost like tentacles).