Carnegie Museum of Natural History
4400 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA, 15213
For immediate release
November 10, 2009
Lord of the Crane Flies
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania… Opening November 21, 2009 at Carnegie Museum of Natural History is Lord of the Crane Flies, a new special exhibition all about crane flies, featuring illustrations, posters, video, and chronicling the extensive research of Carnegie Museum of Natural History Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology Chen Young, PhD. Crane flies are an important indicator of environmental health and have a crucial role in the ecosystem, particularly in western Pennsylvania.
“When people come across crane flies, they often mistake them for giant mosquitoes due to their similar body form. In fact, crane flies are actually harmless insects from which we can learn a lot,” Young explains.
Interestingly, crane flies are a lot more important to our ecosystems than one might initially realize. Crane fly larvae live mostly in or close to water, or on the forest floor. They assist in breaking down organic matter, which in turn renews environmental habitats for other organisms. Some species of larvae can serve as indicators of the quality of a specific ecosystem. As insects picky about their home, the crane fly’s presence—or lack thereof—helps scientists to determine the quality of a specific habitat. For instance, a stream without certain species of crane fly could indicate to researchers that the stream is likely polluted. Conversely, a stream rich with larvae and a number of different species may suggest that the water is unpolluted.
Adult crane flies typically live for only a week to 10 days; females live a bit longer in order to lay eggs. During their short life spans, crane flies may be found most abundantly in moist woodlands and near streams. Adult crane flies are an important food source for a variety of animals, including birds, frogs, lizards, and even other insects.
Importance of Chen’s Work to Inventory Pennsylvania Crane Flies
Carnegie Museum of Natural History promotes research and study in a variety of fields, including a three-year collaborative effort with the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia to survey the populations of crane flies in Pennsylvania. Young is at the forefront of this study, skillfully guiding the inventory of PA crane flies.
The first step in the inventory process includes compiling a database of species and locality records gathered from a variety of sources, including museum specimens and existing scientific literature. Next, researchers go into the field to sample crane flies across the state and study their habitats and environments closely, so as to make any assumptions about the quality of a given habitat. Finally, the updated database is distributed to interested individuals and agencies.
Based on this inventory and extensive fieldwork by Young, the Section of Invertebrate Zoology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History created a Web site about the crane flies of Pennsylvania. This in-depth Web site, available at http://iz.carnegiemnh.org/cranefly/, is updated and refined as more research and information is gathered.
From the young graduate student to a leading world researcher in the study of crane flies, Young’s work focuses on but is not limited to biosystematics (study of species diversification) and biogeography (study of the distribution of organisms) of crane flies worldwide, especially in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, as well as the faunistic study (study of all the animals in a geographic region) of crane flies in the northeastern United States with emphasis on the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History, one of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, is ranked as one of the top five natural history museums in the country. It maintains, preserves, and interprets an extraordinary collection of 20 million objects and scientific specimens used to broaden understanding of evolution, conservation, and biodiversity. More information is available by calling 412.622.3131 or by visiting the Web site at www.carnegiemnh.org.