Sunday, October 4, 2009


Harvestman , or as they are more commonly called, Daddy Longlegs, are found throughout North America. What childhood would be complete without letting one of these spider-like creatures crawl across your leg or arm? I used to play with these crazy looking cousins to spiders all the time, in fact I still can't resist coaxing one onto my hand. Their delicate legs tickling my flesh as they climb my arm. Harvestman are not actually spiders, they are closely related to spiders and are in the same classification of Arachnids, but they are in the family Leiobunidae. Spiders have two body segments called a cephalothorax, whereas Harvestman have only one. They are called Daddy Longlegs for good reason, those impossibly long legs make them look as if that is all they are, their body is very tiny in comparison.

Daddy Longlegs hatch in the spring, and these tiny newborns will grow and molt about every ten days. Once they reach adult size they will begin seeking mates. Males possess a penis, and they seem to actually enjoy copulation; upon meeting they will readily mate and quite often. The male will form a type of umbrella over the female as she lays her eggs in the fall. The eggs will overwinter in the ground and the young emerge the following spring to begin the cycle all over again. They are capable of living up to 2 years.  As appropriate as it may seem the females are not called harvestwoman or Mommy Legs. Both males and females have the same name.

These arachnids feed on a wide variety of food, including earthworms, fruit, plant matter and insects. They can be found almost anywhere, I can walk outside and see them all over my porch, in my gardens and even crawling up the house. Look for them under logs, rocks and moist areas in woodlands. These spider cousins do not build webs, instead they travel to look for food. Many of us have heard the Old Wives Tale about how venomous the Daddy Longlegs is....this is simply not true. They are unable to bite through our skin and even if they could they possess no significant venom glands. Therefore they are completely harmless. These are great "bugs" to use to introduce young children to the wonderful world of insects. They aren't intimidating, they are gentle and it is fun to compare their touch to a tickle.
There is a spider Pholcus phalangioides that is also called Daddy Longlegs, this spider does possess venom glands but has not been known to have bitten anyone. Because there are no known bite victims it is not known whether this spider would be harmful to humans or not. These particular spiders are not found in the United States. 
A fun fact: If our bodies were the size of a Harvestman, in proportion our legs would have to extend over forty or fifty feet. We could cross the road without setting foot on the pavement.

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