Discovered last month in bushland on the eastern edge of Ballarat, the large crane fly is an impressive insect with a wingspan of 60 millimetres and a leg span of much more.
It seems to be patterned in strong warning colours – orange and black - perhaps as bluff, or perhaps it does have an unpleasant taste.
There are several sorts of crane flies in the Ballarat district, but unlike many that appear with the first autumn rains, this brightly-coloured one is a spring insect. The common autumn species, found in hollow logs, under overhanging banks and other sheltered spots, have plain dull reddish or brown bodies.
Despite looking like huge mosquitoes – and consequently feared and disliked – crane flies are harmless to us. They don’t suck blood or bite or sting, indeed, they hardly feed at all in their short adult life stage, having done all their feeding as underground or aquatic grubs.
Fortunately, no mosquitoes reach the size of crane flies.
Sometimes known as the giant crane fly, this handsome specimen was named by a local naturalist as Leptotarsus imperatorius. It is seen here occasionally, but apparently not frequently.
The second part of its scientific name appears to be derived from the same Latin word as imperial or emperor, no doubt referring to its imperial appearance. The first part (Leptotarsus) translates as “slender leg”. The slender legs of crane flies are quite brittle, breaking readily.
Whether it ever gathers in colonies I do not know, but I suspect not. It is most likely a solitary insect.
The specimen pictured is brighter than many others of its kind. The two small, but prominent, club-shaped structures between the second and third pairs of legs are halteres, replacing a second pair of wings and used for balance.
From Sebastopol comes a note referring to the annual return of musk lorikeets to Ballarat. These small bright green screeching parrots of the gum-tree blossom usually arrive from around mid-November. They will stay until the flowering gums finish in late summer.
Their numbers seem to be average or slightly higher this year. Although they are especially prominent – particularly by their screeching – in flowering eucalypts at Stockland in Wendouree and along Hertford Street in Sebastopol, they visit flowering eucalypts in any part of Ballarat.
Occasionally they divert from nectar feeding to fruit-eating, but this seems to be rather uncommon in Ballarat. They also consume large amounts of pollen when they feed at the eucalyptus flowers.