Bugs That Look Like Mosquitoes: Identifying Common Impostors

There are plenty of bugs that look like mosquitoes to the untrained eye! When you encounter tiny, flying insects with slender bodies and long legs, your first thought might be mosquitoes. Numerous other insects have similar appearances but lead very different lives. Here’s a brief introduction to some common mosquito lookalikes:

To distinguish these insects from mosquitoes, observe their behavior and physical characteristics. Mosquitoes are known for their biting habits and are carriers of diseases, whereas the insects listed below are generally harmless and do not bite humans. (except for the Hippoboscid flies, and midge flies which do bite)

While they may closely resemble mosquitoes, their life cycles and roles in the ecosystem vary greatly.

6 Common Insects Mistaken for Mosquitoes

Bugs That Look Like Mosquitoes_ Identifying Common Impostors

Numerous insects resemble mosquitoes but belong to different species. To note there are many different types of mosquitoes. Recognizing these lookalikes can help you better understand your encounters with flying insects. Many mosquito lookalikes will start in early spring, depending on where you live. 

Crane Flies (Tipulidae)

Crane Flies (Tipulidae)

Adult crane flies are often called by their common name: mosquito eaters or mosquito hawks. However, they don’t actually eat mosquitoes. Despite their similar appearance, they do not bite humans. Adult crane flies typically don’t feed at all or may feed on nectar, while their larval stage consumes decomposing organic matter in soil or aquatic environments.

There are over 15,000 known species of crane flies, which belong to the family Tipulidae. These insects are found worldwide, and their species diversity is exceptionally high in tropical regions. Crane flies vary significantly in size and appearance, but they are commonly recognized by their long legs and slender bodies.

Distinguishing features include:

  • Size: Significantly larger than mosquitoes and can look like giant mosquitoes to the untrained eye!
  • Wingspan: Up to 2.5 inches wide
  • Behavior: Do not bite; often found around damp areas.
  • Legs: slender legs

Mayflies (Ephemeroptera)

Mayflies (Ephemeroptera) look like mosquitoes

These insects are known for their incredibly short adult lifespans, which can be as brief as a few hours to a few days. These insects are found worldwide, particularly near water bodies like rivers, streams, and lakes, where their larvae (nymphs) develop.

The life cycle of mayflies is fascinating, involving several stages: egg, nymph, and adult. The nymph stage is aquatic, and mayflies can spend several months to a year in this stage, depending on the species. Nymphs are essential food sources for various freshwater fish and other aquatic organisms. Once they mature into adults, their primary purpose is reproduction.

Adult mayflies are characterized by their delicate, transparent wings, long, slender bodies, and two or three long tail filaments extending from their back end. They often emerge in large swarms, which can be a spectacle but also a nuisance if they are near populated areas.

  • Wings: Unique wing shape with a second pair of smaller wings
  • Lifespan: Notable for their extremely short adult lives.

Fungus Gnats (Sciaridae)

Fungus Gnats (Sciaridae) that looks like a mosquito

Fungus gnats are tiny, resembling mosquitoes, and are commonly found around overwatered plants. The larval stage can live in the soil of your house plants. If you want to see which house plant is affected, place a piece of raw potato into the soil.

If you see large numbers of larvae gravitating to the potato slice, you know you have fungus gnats in your plant’s moist soil!

​Fungus gnats also don’t like soapy water; some say to spray them with a mix of dish soap and water.

  • Environment: Thrive in damp soil
  • Behavior: Not blood feeders; they are harmless to humans
  • Size: Smaller and more delicate than mosquitoes
  • Diet: Larvae feed on fungus, hence the name.

Midge Flies (Chironomidae)

Midge Flies (Chironomidae) that looks like a mosquito

Midge flies are also mistaken for mosquitoes but can bite. Adult midges lay eggs near moist areas or aquatic habitats. You may find them swarming in open fields with moist soils.

  • Appearance: Resemble mosquitoes but have shorter wings
  • Habitat: Often found near water bodies
  • Size: Typically smaller than mosquitoes
  • Habitat: Common around water bodies; swarms can be mistaken for mosquito clouds.
  • Role: Non-biting; serves as food for various animals
  • Body: Tend to have a more robust body compared to mosquitoes

Hippoboscid Fly (Hippoboscidae)

Hippoboscid Fly (Hippoboscidae)

Another type of flying parasite, often called the “louse fly” or “flat fly,” needs a blood meal to survive. These parasites are notable for their flattened, winged bodies and strong legs, which allow them to cling tightly to their hosts. They primarily target birds but can also affect mammals, including humans. 

I recently found one in an East Village apartment in New York City. The resident was getting what they thought were either mosquito or bed bug bites. But the bites turned out to be from this Hippoboscid fly, which we found on his wall. A bird’s nest was on an AC unit, which was the source of the parasitic flies.

Appearance: Hippoboscid flies have flattened, winged bodies that are often dark brown or gray. They possess strong legs equipped with claws, enabling them to cling tightly to their hosts. Their bodies are typically winged but may appear wingless in some species that have adapted to a more permanent life on the host.

Habitat: Hippoboscid flies are primarily found on or near their animal hosts. They prefer environments where their hosts dwell, ranging from dense forests and woodlands where deer and birds are abundant to farms and stables where livestock are present.

Size: Depending on the species, hippoboscid flies are relatively small, generally ranging from 5 to 15 mm in length.

Additional Habitat Info: These flies are adept at navigating through their host’s fur or feathers and will stay on or near their host for most of their life. Some species are specifically adapted to live almost their entire adult life attached to a single host, only leaving if the host dies or they are dislodged. Their bites can be painful and resemble a mosquito bite on some folks.

Drain Flies (Psychodidae)

Drain Flies (Psychodidae) can me mistaken for a mosquito

They belong to the family Psychodidae and are sometimes also referred to as moth flies due to their appearance. They have hydrophobic hairs on their bodies, thrive in damp places, and can’t be washed down a drain.

These flies are also weak fliers and can jump. So, if you see small hairy flies, it’s probably a drain fly! Learn all about drain flies here.

Appearance: Drain flies, also known as moth flies, have a distinctive fuzzy appearance because their bodies and wings are covered in long hairs. They are typically small, with a broad, rounded wing shape that gives them a moth-like appearance at rest.

Habitat: Drain flies (aka sewage flies) thrive in moist, highly organic environments such as drains, sewers, septic tanks, and dirty garbage disposal units. They thrive in areas with standing water and organic material to feed on. 

Size: Drain flies are small, generally measuring about 2 to 5 mm long.

Additional Habitat Info: These flies are not strong fliers and often linger near their breeding sites. These filth flies can become a nuisance in homes and businesses, especially in bathrooms and kitchens, where conditions can be ideal for their larvae to develop in the sludge that accumulates in plumbing.

Natural Mosquito Control Tips and Tricks

Characteristics of Mosquito Mimics


Mosquito mimics are insects that exhibit similar features to mosquitoes, which can often lead to confusion. Understanding the specific characteristics of these mimics helps correctly identify them.

Body Structure

Observing a mosquito mimic’s body structure can reveal many differentiating factors. Mosquito mimics tend to have variations in body size and proportions. Look for a resemblance to mosquitoes in body shape, but note that mimic species often have differences in wing shape or leg length. For instance, craneflies have notably longer legs compared to mosquitoes.

Flight Patterns

The way an insect flies can provide cues to its identity. Mosquito mimics may exhibit flight patterns that differ in speed and maneuverability. Mosquitoes generally have a fluttering flight, while some mimics might display a more steady and direct path when airborne.

Breeding Habits

Familiarizing yourself with mosquito mimics’ breeding habits can further assist in their identification. Similar to mosquitoes, their breeding environments can range from standing water to entirely different habitats, such as damp soil or decaying vegetation.

It’s important to note the specific locations and conditions each species favors for egg-laying and larval development.

Methods for Identification

Accurate identification of insects that resemble mosquitoes is crucial for understanding whether they pose a potential threat or are harmless. The following methods will assist you in distinguishing them.

Visual Comparison

You can identify insects by closely examining their physical attributes. Here’s a table highlighting the key differences:


Mosquitoes often have a distinctive proboscis used for feeding, while other similar insects may lack this feature.

Behavioral Observation

Observe the insect’s behavior to aid in identification.

  • Mosquitoes often fly in a somewhat erratic pattern and are known to bite humans and animals as they feed on blood.
  • In contrast, Crane Flies are not blood feeders and are usually seen hovering around lights or resting on walls.
  • Midges may form swarms, usually around bodies of water, but they do not bite.
  • Fungus Gnats tend to be found near plants, laying eggs in the moist soil.

To determine the insect’s identity, note the environment and activity and compare them with the typical behaviors listed.

Environmental Impact of Mosquito Lookalikes

You’re likely looking at one of many innocuous species when you encounter insects resembling mosquitoes. However, their presence can have various environmental implications.

Predator-Prey Dynamics: Lookalike species, such as crane flies and midges, play vital roles in food webs. They serve as prey for multiple predators, including birds, bats, and other insects. This sustenance helps maintain the health and population balance of these predators.

Pollination: Some mosquito mimics, precisely certain types of midges, contribute to pollination. Although less efficient than bees, their interactions with flowers support plant reproduction and ecological diversity.

  • Species Competition: These lookalikes can compete with other insects for resources. While some, like midge larvae, aid in decomposing organic matter, they may also compete with mosquito larvae, influencing mosquito populations.

Table: Potential Environmental Impacts of Mosquito Lookalikes


It’s important to recognize these insects’ roles in your local ecosystem. The insect presence can indicate the health of the environment, and they can serve as bioindicators for scientists studying ecological changes. Understanding these dynamics helps in making informed environmental decisions and conservation efforts.

Prevention and Control Strategies

Implementing both preventive measures and direct control strategies is essential to effectively managing populations of bugs that resemble mosquitoes. Below are succinct methods for reducing the likelihood of these insects affecting your environment.

Environmental Management

  • Remove Standing Water: Drain areas with stagnant water, such as bird baths, plant saucers, and blocked gutters, breeding grounds for mosquito-like insects.
  • Landscaping: Keep bushes and grass trimmed to reduce shelter for adult bugs.
  • Screens: Ensure window and door screens are intact to prevent insects from entering your home.
  • Turn off Porch Lights: Many flying bugs are attracted to porch lights. If you have an issue, turn the light off when you open the door.

Chemical Control

  • Insect Repellents: Apply repellents containing DEET or Picaridin to exposed skin when outdoors.
  • Insecticides: Use insecticides designed for the specific species you are dealing with, and follow label instructions for safe application. Some pest control operators use an insect growth regulator to eliminate them. 

Biological Control

  • Natural Predators: Encourage the presence of mosquito-eating animals such as bats, birds, and dragonflies.
  • Bacterial Larvicides: Introduce Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (BTI) in water sources to target larvae stages.

Personal Protection

  • Clothing: When active in bug-infested areas, wear long sleeves and pants, especially at dawn and dusk, when many species are most active.
  • Bed Nets: Use bed nets treated with insecticide if bugs are a problem during sleeping hours.