Wilderness Underfoot: Daddy long legs

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11545499064098.jpg’, ”, ‘Daddy long legs – Also called “harvestmen,” these spiderlike creatures are most plentiful in the late summer. They can be found by the hundreds crawling on binders and other farming equipment at harvest time. Harvestmen have a whole range of interesting behaviors to deter predators. They might freeze up and feign death because some predators, such as reptiles and amphibians, are only attracted to food that moves. Or, they might shake their bodies—perhaps to make it difficult for predators to target them. They often cluster together in large groups, much like fish that swim in schools, so a predator has a hard time singling out one for capture. If attacked, they can easily shed some legs, which lie on the soil twitching to confuse a predator. And some species can produce unpleasant odorous chemicals. More than 2,000 species are found worldwide. ‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11545499124098.jpg’, ”, ‘A fossil harvestman from Illinois – This ancient Opilionid, Nemastoides sp., is found in Coal Age fossils (Carboniferous Period, 300 million years ago) near Coal City, Ill. Much older fossils of the harvestman have been discovered in Scotland. They evolved not long after the first animals colonized land (Devonian Period, 410 million years ago).’);

Some people think this creature is one of the most poisonous spiders on earth (but they’re wrong!).

It’s a story that has been passed around for many years. Daddy long legs is supposed to possess the deadliest poison of any spider, perhaps of any animal, but its mouth is too small to bite us.

The story is nothing more than a myth. To begin, there’s confusion about what a daddy long legs is. This informal name has often been used for both the kind of creature pictured here, which is also called a harvestman, and less often for another creature found on webs in cellar windows.

But the harvestman shown here is not even a true spider. It lacks poison glands, it can’t make webs, and it actually belongs to a different order of arachnids called Opiliones. Yes, the harvestman does have a tiny mouth, but even if it did try to bite, it simply isn’t poisonous.

On the other hand, true spiders, such as the ones you see in your cellar, belong to the order of Araneae. Many true spiders have poison glands that they use to subdue their prey and deter attacks from other creatures. But with exception of the black widow, most web-building spiders in your cellar window aren’t especially poisonous, including the ones sometimes called daddy long legs.

As for the harvestman, although it may sometimes wander into your cellar, it’s usually found outdoors. It lurks about on the soil, on plant stems and tree trunks, and on the sides of buildings, searching for tiny insects and practically any other edible substance it can find. It isn’t picky about its food, and its hunting style is fairly simple. It finds smaller creatures, and overpowers them without the benefit of a poisonous bite or a sticky web.

From the Aug. 2-8, 3006, issue

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